Editorial: The President must be heeded

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The Independent Online

David Cameron's supposedly historic speech on Europe has been postponed yet again. The Prime Minister was right not to go ahead with the address, scheduled for this morning, in the light of the febrile and tragic events unfolding in Algeria. Indeed, he had no choice, not least because to be seen "banging on about Europe" while British lives were at risk would have been the ultimate emblem of his and his party's misplaced priorities.

Nonetheless, the postponement itself also stands as a symbol of the chaos surrounding a speech that was first meant to have been made in the early autumn and then before Christmas. The January date has been changed more than once. Now we await details of another rescheduling. The national interest would be better served if the speech were never made, instead of being postponed on a regular basis. Sadly, this option is not available to the Prime Minister.

For reasons that remain a mystery, those within No 10 have been responsible for hyping the speech, even though the long delay suggests that Mr Cameron did not know precisely what to say. The changing timescale, now further extended, suggests that the Prime Minister had found it close to impossible to find a form of words that reconciled the increasingly fractious Eurosceptics in his party and his own desire that the UK remain within the EU.

Mr Cameron now faces a further complication. Today it emerged that President Obama made it clear to the Prime Minister that the US expected, and wanted, Britain to remain at the heart of the EU. The extensive briefing in Washington of the President's views shows the concern with which the US administration is watching Mr Cameron's high-wire act.

The Prime Minister cannot back out again. To put off the speech again would be taken as a sign of almost fatal weakness. Still, the enforced delay means that he has time to reflect on his conversation with Mr Obama and, at the very least, tweak his speech to make it clearer that he has no intention of leading a government that takes Britain out of the EU. Such clarity would, of course, ignite further fury in his own party, so dangerous fuzziness remains likely when he finally speaks. What a shame he ever decided to make the speech in the first place.