The PM's long European nightmare still isn't over

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The Independent Online

Rarely has the build-up to an important speech been such a disaster. Even before David Cameron decided last night to postpone his address on Europe because of events beyond his control in Algeria, describing it as "long-awaited" did not do justice to it.

The seeds were sown last June, when the Prime Minister appeared to rule out an "in/out" EU referendum at a Brussels press conference. His surprisingly positive defence of our EU membership provoked hostile headlines in our Eurosceptic-dominated newspapers, and fury among Tory MPs. The next day, Mr Cameron and his aides scrambled together a last-minute article to reassure his party. He wrote: "For me, the two words 'Europe' and 'referendum' can go together."

There was no going back; he could not deny his party the referendum it craved. All he could do was delay it. Since that episode, "The Speech" has been in and out of Mr Cameron's diary more times than any other event. He intended to deliver it in the autumn; then before Christmas.

Then it was fixed for next Tuesday, a diplomatic disaster as it clashed with the 50th anniversary of the Franco-German reconciliation treaty after the Second World War. That the British Government didn't know there was a big love-in in Berlin shows how we have drifted to the EU's margins, if not quite the exit door.

The delay left a vacuum, filled by Eurosceptics. Eventually, even pro-Europeans woke up. As a result, when it finally happens, Mr Cameron's speech will probably satisfy none of them.