Cameron hits back at Boris

"We will see what happens the next time he comes around with the begging bowl," says No. 10.

Boris Johnson's intervention over this week's cabinet reshuffle was his most striking yet. Not only did he condemn David Cameron's decision to remove Justine Greening as Transport Secretary (an extraordinary show of dissent), he added that it would be "simply mad" to build a third runway at Heathrow and vowed to "fight this all the way", even refusing to rule out fighting a by-election on the issue.

The Prime Minister, to put it mildly, might have hoped for a more helpful contribution from the Mayor as he sought to refresh his government. But Boris, still basking in post-Olympic glory, was determined to seize an opportunity to burnish his credentials as an alternative Conservative leader and reach out to those Tories alienated by Cameron.

It is unsurprising, then, that the Prime Minister felt it necessary to retaliate. "We will see what happens the next time he comes around with the begging bowl," one Downing Street official told today's FT. "He might need us one day." Cameron is reportedly considering withholding government support for projects such as "Crossrail II" (a new rail line from Chelsea to Hackney) and and a tunnel under the Thames at Silvertown.

If Boris and Cameron's power struggle leads to a mutually destructive war then it is Labour that will be the likely winner.

Boris Johnson has angered Downing Street with his criticism of a third runway at Heathrow. 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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