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U.K. lawmakers debate leaving the European Union

By Eliza Mackintosh, Published: May 13, 2013 at 5:12 pm

LONDON — As Prime Minister David Cameron met with President Obama in Washington on Monday to discuss the benefits of a new trade agreement between the United States and Europe, a storm was brewing across the Atlantic over whether Britain should exit the European Union.

Education Secretary Michael Gove and Defense Secretary Philip Hammond, both members of the Conservative Party, escalated tensions in Parliament on Sunday when both said that if a referendum were held now, they would vote for Britain to leave the 27-nation bloc.

Gove, who is one of the most senior Conservatives to speak out in support of Britain exiting the EU, said Sunday that should that happen, “life outside would be perfectly tolerable,” and that there would even be some advantages. Hammond echoed Gove’s remarks saying, he is on Gove’s “side of the argument.”

London Mayor Boris Johnson did not join fellow conservatives in outright advocating the nation’s withdrawal from the EU, but he told the BBC on Friday that Britain must be prepared to pull out, and that an exit would not be as “cataclysmic” to the U.K. economy as some EU supporters claim.

The remarks from senior members of Cameron’s cabinet made for awkward timing as the prime minister pressed Obama for a long-term EU-U.S. trade deal, which he says would bring Britain’s economy more than $15 billion a year.

“We have a special relationship with the U.K. and we believe that our capacity to partner with a United Kingdom that is active, robust, outward-looking and engaged with the world is hugely important to our own interests as well as the world.” Obama said at a news conference with Cameron in Washington on Monday. “And I think that the U.K.’s participation in the EU is an expression of its influence and its role in the world.”

Obama added that Cameron’s, “basic point that you probably want to see if you can fix what’s broken in a very important relationship before you break it off makes some sense to me.” Continue reading