Cameron to deliver EU speech in the Netherlands this Friday

Downing Street confirms a date for the PM's long-delayed speech on "the future of the EU and the UK's relationship with it".

After months of speculation, Downing Street has finally confirmed a date for David Cameron's EU speech. The PM will deliver his long-delayed address on "the future of the EU and the UK's relationship with it" in the Netherlands this Friday. Cameron originally intended to give the speech on 22 January but was forced to change the date after Angela Merkel's office complained that it clashed with celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty (or Treaty of Friendship) between France and Germany.

Tory MPs were promised an address from Cameron on Europe as long ago as last June but when the speech failed to materialise, this was changed to "before Christmas". When this deadline too was missed, Cameron ill-advisedly remarked at a press gallery lunch in Westminster: "Thanks for reminding me that my Europe speech remains as yet unmade. This is a tantric approach to policy-making: it’ll be even better when it does eventually come."

The PM has now raised expectations so high that he will struggle to meet them. It is clear that Cameron will pledge to seek the repatriation of powers from the EU before offering voters a choice between this "new settlement" and withdrawal in a referendum midway through the next parliament. But to satisfy Tory MPs he will also need to show that he has a plan ready if other EU members refuse to play ball.

David Cameron leaves Number 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.