FILE - Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop talks to journalists during a news briefing in Kyiv, July 28, 2014.
FILE - Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop talks to journalists during a news briefing in Kyiv, July 28, 2014.

SYDNEY - The Australian government has urged the British people not to leave the European Union (EU).  A referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership in the EU will be held in June.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop believes it is in her country’s best interest that Britain remains a part of the European Union.

Earlier this month, Bishop held talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron at a Nuclear Security Summit in Washington D.C.  She said the European Union was a “significant trading partner” for Australia, and that Britain’s continued membership in the 28-state body was imperative.

As a bloc, the EU is Australia’s largest source of foreign investment and is its second largest trading partner after China.  Negotiations towards an eventual free trade agreement are underway. Britain is the world’s fifth largest economy, and two-way trade between Australia and Britain is worth around $16 billion annually.

But some Australian politicians are urging Britain to leave the EU because membership had forced the nation to cede control of its borders and laws.

Conservative Senator James Paterson told the Australian parliament that British voters should turn their backs on EU membership.

“Britain would be more prosperous, free and secure outside the European Union.  The European Union project may have begun with good intentions. But the reality is that the EU today has strayed very far from those intentions.  It has become bloated, undemocratic and hostile to the freedoms that made Britain great,” said Paterson.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has lobbied world leaders to support his bid for his country to remain in the European Union.  President Obama said Britain would go to the "back of the queue" for trade agreements with Washington if ties with the EU were severed.

Australia is a former British colony, and social and economic ties between the two nations run deep.  Sporting rivalries are fierce, and Britons continue to migrate to Australia in large numbers, while the parliament in Canberra is based on the Westminster system.  Australia is a constitutional monarchy with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth as its head of state.

Britain’s future in Europe will be decided at a referendum on June 23.