Philip Hammond defended the right of foreign leaders, including the US president, to speak up about their hopes for the UK to continue to be a member of the European Union.
He suggested that voters could be “deceived” by claims from some in the Brexit camp about the possibility of strengthened relations with English-speaking countries in the event of a vote to leave the EU.
Downing Street has refused to comment on reports that the US president, who has previously made it clear that America wants its closest ally to remain part of the EU, is heading to the UK next month to make the case to voters.
Speaking at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Hammond said that although the referendum is a matter for the British people to decide, “it is those who are campaigning for an Out vote who have talked so much about the Anglosphere, about Britain’s alternative possibilities if we were to exit”.
He added: “I think it’s important that we hear from those people in the Anglosphere – not just President Obama but the leaders of Australia, New Zealand, Canada – and beyond the Anglosphere, Japanese and Chinese leaders. Let’s just hear what they actually think about their relations with Britain.
“Let’s just hear how much they actually value Britain’s membership of the EU, just so the British people are properly informed in this debate and are not deceived by some of the suggestions they are hearing about the welcome that might be awaiting us if we left the EU from our English-speaking partners around the world.”
Johnson defended his stance, telling the Press Association it was a “paradox” for the United States to call for the UK to remain in the EU.