If Cameron wants a special US relationship, then he needs a better EU relationship first

David Cameron flew to the USA today for a three day visit intended to strengthen the “unique and essential” relationship between the UK and the US. While Cameron might be quite the diplomat with our friends the other side of the Atlantic, unfortunately it’s a completely different story every time he crosses the Channel.

Cameron’s infamous “veto” might have played well at home last December, but it is clear that it did nothing for Britain’s relationship with the US, or the rest of Europe.

Cameron’s walkout was greeted by many in America with horror. The next day the New York Times ran the story ‘In Rejecting Treaty, Cameron is Isolated‘. The Huffington Post went with ‘David Cameron Loser in EU Deal‘. This was a view echoed by myself and many other MEPs in the subsequent European Parliament debate. Even Nick Clegg broke from his usual role as the nodding dog to say that Cameron’s actions would mean ‘not being taken seriously in Washington’.

Because, clearly, the so-called veto didn’t stop anything at all; in fact it left Britain on the sidelines with the Czech Republic whilst the other 25 countries went ahead as planned. And the worrying ramifications of that decision are still coming to light. Cameron claimed he had won guarantees that the new pact would not touch on the single market. He was either deluded or being economical with the truth; it is now clear that the EU25 meetings will discuss the single market, if they want to, something even Conservative MPs would be worried about. Britain won’t have a voice in those discussions.

The EU is the largest trading bloc in the world, and Britain has a seat at the table. In fact, the power Britain can wield in Brussels is impressive. The UK has 72 MEPs, with the ability to directly change legislation. The British government has the same amount of votes as Germany, France and Italy in Council meetings. And our European Commissioner is Baroness Cathy Ashton, who is also the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs. It’s this influence in Europe that the US wants to tap into. But with the UK now left out of crucial EU talks, we could easily be sidelined by the US. If Obama wants to ring ‘Europe’, is he going to call Cameron, or would a call to Sarkozy or Merkel be better?

And it’s not just the US that will be put off by Britain’s new found isolation. The big economies of the twenty-first century, such as India, China and Brazil, want to invest in a country that is a gateway to the single market, to the 500 million citizens in the EU. And if Cameron continues to put Britain’s place in Europe in jeopardy, businesses will find a safer place to invest their money.

In today’s globalised world it is not patriotic to play irresponsible isolationist politics. I hope President Obama makes it clear to Mr Cameron over the next few days that in order to be a valued partner of America, Britain also needs to be an engaged, constructive player in the EU.

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