Cameron's EU speech postponed due to Algeria hostage crisis

Prime Minister will remain in London tomorrow to chair Cobra meetings, rather than delivering long-delayed speech in the Netherlands on Britain's EU membership.

When David Cameron joked that he was taking a "tantric" approach to his long-delayed EU speech  (telling journalists at a Press Gallery lunch in Westminster, "it will be even better when it does eventually come"), he cannot have known how prophetic that quip would prove to be.

The speech, which was finally due to be given tomorrow in Amsterdam, has now been postponed again due to the hostage crisis in Algeria. Rather than travelling to the Netherlands, Cameron, who warned of "bad news ahead", will now remain in London to chair a meeting of Cobra, the government's crisis management committee.

He said: "We face a very bad situation at this BP gas compound in Algeria. A number of British citizens have been taken hostage; already we know of one that has died. The Algerian armed forces have now attacked this compound. It is a very dangerous, very uncertain, very fluid situation.

"We have to prepare ourselves for the possibility of bad news ahead. Cobra officials here are working around the clock to do everything we can to keep in contact with the families."

There is no word yet on an alternative date for the speech but pre-released extracts are likely to appear over night.

David Cameron leaves Number 10 Downing Street to attend Prime Minister's Questions on January 9, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.