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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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.