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.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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