Andrew Mitchell's statement resolves nothing

Chief whip continues to deny that he called the police "plebs".

If Andrew Mitchell's statement outside Downing Street this morning was intended to draw a line under the controversy surrounding his altercation with the police, it was a resounding failure. The Chief Whip began badly, stating that it had been "a long and extremely frustrating day", before rather negating that point by conceding: "not that that's any excuse at all" (why mention it then?)

He added: "I have apologised to the police, I have apologised to the officer on the gate, and he has accepted my apology, and I hope very much that we can draw a line under it there."

Then asked whether he called the police "plebs", he again denied doing so.

I want to make it absolutely clear that I did not say the words attributed to me.

But with today's Sun reporting that an official police record of the incident confirms that he did use the word "plebs", the Chief Whip's denials are only likely to invite further scrutiny of the conflicting accounts. Either he did use the word "plebs", in which case he is unfit for office, or he didn't, in which case the police are lying and, as Trevor Kavanagh puts it, he should he sue them "for defamation".

What Mitchell has still not told us is what he did say. Earlier this morning, Nick Clegg rightly called on him to "explain his side of the story" but that is precisely what he failed to do.

Minutes after Mitchell's statement, Clegg was interviewed on the Today programme. He said that Mitchell had "quite rightly" apologised, before adding that he was not going to give a "running textual analysis". Others, however, will continue to do so.

Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell again denied that he referred to the police as "plebs". 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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