Brexit could mean the US is no longer able to remain a “major player” in the security of the West, the country’s former vice president has warned.
Joe Biden, who served as deputy to Barack Obama during his two terms in the White House, told an event in London that the UK-US special relationship thrived when Britain was “totally integrated” with Europe.
The intervention of the seasoned former senator comes amid speculation that he could mount a presidential run against Donald Trump in 2020, having previously vied to be the Democrats’ nominee in 1988 and 2008.
Mr Biden said on Wednesday that he met Prime Minister Theresa May during his visit this week and appreciated Brexit was an “intractable” problem.
He made an impassioned case for unity between the US and Europe in a speech to Chatham House, rallying against the spectre of authoritarianism cast by states such as Russia and China.
Western values of “democracy, freedom, openness” face “unprecedented challenges” from both hostile international forces and swelling populist movements, he claimed.
Asked about the issue of Brexit, Mr Biden said he would have voted against it if he were a British MP, continuing: “US interests are diminished with Great Britain not an integral part of Europe and bringing to bear influence well beyond the economy, on the European attitudes towards a whole range of subjects.
“It seems to me that there is a growing awareness in Europe as a whole and around the world that Britain played a role in Europe over the last 30 years that went well beyond the notion of open borders, trade and all these other things – being able to influence attitudes about things that have nothing to do with the elements of the EU state.”
On the ties between the US and UK, he said: “There is a special relationship, we have been locked cheek and jowl on almost every important issue that exists, and so without England being totally integrated in the EU to the extent that it is distanced from that diminishes our ability to have influence on events on the continent.
I do believe very strongly that the United States's ability to play a major role in the security of the West and the prosperity of the transatlantic partnership rests in part on Great Britain’s influence in EuropeJoe Biden
“I had the great honour of spending some time with your Prime Minister last night and I think it’s an almost intractable problem no matter which political party. I observe the Labour Party is not unified on these things – it really is difficult.
“I do believe very strongly that the United States’s ability to play a major role in the security of the West and the prosperity of the transatlantic partnership rests in part on Great Britain’s influence in Europe.”
Mr Biden also claimed the UK and US should lead the battle to protect shared Western beliefs.
He singled out China and Russia as two global powers eager to spread autocratic ideals, leaving democratic societies facing a “contest for the future”.
The attempted assassination of former Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on British soil was cited as one example of the methods such states would use in pursuit of their goals.
Mr Biden said: “They are increasingly meddling in free societies and exploiting the openness of our systems to sow chaos and influence political outcomes by using the tools available to them, which include information warfare and propaganda, economic coercion, corruption, energy manipulation and even, as we have seen here in Great Britain, assassinations.”
His foreign policy speech – centred on the importance of transatlantic alliances – will be seen as a direct challenge to the administration of Mr Trump.
The US president is instinctively hostile to organisations such as Nato and has clashed with European leaders over issues such as trade and defence, while Britain is currently at loggerheads with the continent over the terms of its EU departure.
Mr Biden made an apparent nod to the tensions of the time, saying “looking inward, turning inward, has never, ever worked for us before”.
The “special relationship” between the US and UK still forms the “core” of the transatlantic partnership, he said, telling the audience at Chatham House: “The fight for the future has already begun and it is a fight we have to win.”