LONDON - U.S. President Barack Obama has dived into a heated debate over a June 23 referendum in which British voters will decide whether their country will remain in the European Union.
"I don't believe the EU moderates British influence in the world, it magnifies it," the U.S. leader said at a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron following their meeting Friday.
Obama’s remarks are a boost for Cameron, who has come out in support of remaining in the European Union.
But they have inflamed so-called Euroskeptics, who reject what they say is interference by the U.S. leader in a domestic matter.
In a column published in The Telegraph newspaper moments after Air Force One touched down late Thursday at Stansted Airport outside London, Obama urged Britain to stay in the EU.
"Ultimately, the question of whether or not the UK remains a part of the EU is a matter for British voters to decide for yourselves," Obama wrote. "A strong Europe is not a threat to Britain's global leadership; it enhances Britain's global leadership."
The United States and Britain have what Washington leaders have, since the time of Winston Churchill, described as "a special relationship," and the U.S. sees Britain's membership as Washington's voice in the 28-nation grouping.
"The United States sees how your powerful voice in Europe ensures that Europe takes a strong stance in the world, and keeps the EU open, outward looking, and closely linked to its allies on the other side of the Atlantic. So the US and the world need your outsized influence to continue — including within Europe," Obama wrote.
In his remarks alongside the British Prime Minister, Obama also warned that Britain would end up "in the back of the queue" on trade deals if it left the EU.
Obama's statements drew a sharp rebuke from those who back Britain's exit.
Right-wing U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage had strong words for the U.S. leader, saying he should "butt out." Farage and others argue that being in the EU has caused Britain to lose control of its borders by handing other countries the power to admit migrants who are then sometimes able to travel to the U.K.
London Mayor Boris Johnson described Obama's statements as hypocritical and said U.S. leaders "would never contemplate anything like the EU for themselves."
Those sentiments were echoed by Euroskeptic campaigners distributing leaflets in a southeast London neighborhood hours before Obama's arrival.
"I'd just say this to President Obama: I don't think he has the right to lecture us until the U.S. accepts an open border with Mexico, a supreme court in Havana, and VAT [Value Added Tax] set in Buenos Aires," Tom Harwood, a 19-year-old volunteer and university student, told VOA.
Lunch with Queen
Earlier Friday, the U.S. president and first lady Michelle Obama went to Windsor Castle for lunch with Queen Elizabeth II, who celebrated her 90th birthday a day earlier.
Obama presented the queen with a photo album of her numerous meetings with U.S. presidents and first ladies.
Obama said he had to confess that part of the reason for his trip was to wish the queen a happy birthday. He said the monarch was a "real jewel" to the world, not just Britain.
The queen does not express her opinions on political matters.