Cameron cancels EU speech amid Algerian hostage crisis

PM will chair Cobra meetings in London instead of giving much-anticipated speech in the Netherlands on UK-EU relations

David Cameron’s apparently jinxed speech on Europe in the Netherlands was cancelled after frantic consultations led the prime minister’s advisers to conclude the hostage crisis in Algeria made the speech impossible to deliver.

Cameron will instead stay in London to oversee a meeting of Cobra, the cabinet’s crisis management committee. He warned the nation that it needed to be prepared for bad news over the hostage crisis.

Cameron’s aides had been aware for 24 hours that there was a possibility the landmark speech would have to be postponed due to the crisi in Algeria, but throughout the day they said the speech would go ahead.

There had been contingency plans for Cameron to chair a meeting of Cobra by video from the Netherlands.

He said: “We face a very bad sitution 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 oficials here are working around the clock to do everything we can to keep in contact with the families.”

The warning of bad news reflects the knowledge in government circles that the Algerian attack on the hostage-takers has gone badly wrong. The Algerian attack occured without the knowledge of the UK government and against its clear advice the day before.

The prime minister’s spokesman said the UK would have preferred to have been informed of the attack and was only told of the Algerian move when Cameron rang the Algerian prime minister.

Cameron spoke to the Algerian leader twice on Thursday. It was following the second conversation late on Thursday afternoon that Cameron decided he could not press ahead with the speech. One source said it was clear “the crisis was on-going and there was bad news” and that “we needed to be around”.

There is a possibility that the Commons will have to be briefed. It is due to meet on Friday, a relatively unusual event.

Government sources said the speech will not be released on Friday in full and that only the extracts will be reported.

The postponement represents a bitter political blow to Cameron but he faced little choice given the scale of the tragedy unfolding in the Algerian desert.

Cameron had already been forced to reschedule the date of the speech after a clash with a major Franco-German anniversary.

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