The eurosceptics often say that Britain doesn’t need to stay in the EU because we can always forge closer relations with the US if we leave.

That’s not how it looks from Washington. “The UK voice in the EU is essential and critical for the US,” said Philip Gordon, assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, who is visiting London for meetings at the foreign office and Downing Street.

“We have a growing relationship with the EU, and we want a strong British voice in that institution.”

US diplomats rarely talk on the record about another country’s domestic policy, so Mr Gordon’s remarks are a sign of how concerned Washington is about Britain’s slide away from Europe. He is the second senior official in recent weeks to meet British counterparts to discuss Britain’s role in Europe.

The fact that he spoke on the record to a small group of British journalists suggests that the US wants to influence the debate before David Cameron makes his policy speech on Europe later this month.

“What’s in the British interest is for Britain to decide,” said Mr Gordon, while stressing that it was in the American interest for the UK to work within the EU.

EU influence

“I wouldn’t underestimate the increasing weight of the EU in the world,” he said, pointing to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent joint visit with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Cathy Ashton to the Balkans.

The US sees EU oil sanctions on Iran as an example of a policy which has more impact because it involves all 27 countries. It is also keen to coordinate policy on Israel and Syria. The US administration sees Britain as a major advocate for its interests within the EU.

Mr Gordon expressed some frustration at the EU’s continued obsession with its own structure.

“Every hour at an EU summit spent debating the institutional make-up of the EU is one less hour spent talking about how we can solve out common problems of jobs, growth and international peace,” he said. “We welcome an outward looking EU with Britain in it.”

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