Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from today's papers.

1. Ed Miliband's big test is to make voters see him as prime minister The Observer

He can't do anything about the way he looks, but he can do something about the way he talks to the country, writes Andrew Rawnsley.

2. 'Likeability’ is the bane of modern politics The Sunday Telegraph

Clowning around on a chat show, or even being a devoted Dad, may count for less than having a serious grasp of economic reality, writes Janet Daley.

3. Casual vacancy for gloomy snob: would suit JK Rowling The Sunday Times (£)

The first Harry Potter story was astonishing in its minor public-school wannabe snobbery, argues Minette Marrin.

4. Israel and the Occupied Territories are much changed - yet peace seems more distant than ever The Independent on Sunday

As Donald Macintyre, the Sindy's Jerusalem correspondent, remembers eight years reporting from the region, he reflects on what has changed and what changes must still come.

5. What’s the point of Labour when the coffers are empty? The Sunday Telegraph

Ed Miliband’s answer to this question will help to decide the outcome of the next election, writes Matthew d'Ancona.

6. Wonkish? Yes, but Miliband could be PM in 2015 The Independent on Sunday

The Labour brand is strong because voters think Labour will protect their jobs, argues John Rentoul.

7. Is this the death knell for the Lib Dems? The Observer

At a time when the country needs them, the party seems intent on self-destruction, writes Nick Cohen.

8. Ed's set to bare his soul... and his inner geek The Mail on Sunday

One of Miliband’s closest allies admits the Labour leader is "not yet seen an alternative Prime Minister. He needs to be by the Election". The test of this conference is whether he is halfway to being there by the end of it, writes James Forsyth.

9. Stay vague, Ed — too red and you’re dead The Sunday Times (£)

If Miliband is wise, he will keep this stuff about responsible capitalism vague. Better Fuzzy Ed than Red Ed, writes Martin Ivens.

10. We need a revolution in how our companies are owned and run The Observer

Will Hutton calls for a culture dedicated to long-term, ethical goals.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Brexit is teaching the UK that it needs immigrants

Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past.

Why did the UK vote to leave the EU? For conservatives, Brexit was about regaining parliamentary sovereignty. For socialists it was about escaping the single market. For still more it was a chance to punish David Cameron and George Osborne. But supreme among the causes was the desire to reduce immigration.

For years, as the government repeatedly missed its target to limit net migration to "tens of thousands", the EU provided a convenient scapegoat. The free movement of people allegedly made this ambition unachievable (even as non-European migration oustripped that from the continent). When Cameron, the author of the target, was later forced to argue that the price of leaving the EU was nevertheless too great, voters were unsurprisingly unconvinced.

But though the Leave campaign vowed to gain "control" of immigration, it was careful never to set a formal target. As many of its senior figures knew, reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year would come at an economic price (immigrants make a net fiscal contribution of £7bn a year). An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent. For the UK, with its poor productivity and sub-par infrastructure, immigration has long been an economic boon. 

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, some cabinet members hoped that she would abolish the net migration target in a "Nixon goes to China" moment. But rather than retreating, the former Home Secretary doubled down. She regards the target as essential on both political and policy grounds (and has rejected pleas to exempt foreign students). But though the same goal endures, Brexit is forcing ministers to reveal a rarely spoken truth: Britain needs immigrants.

Those who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce the number of newcomers have been forced to qualify their remarks. On last night's Question Time, Brexit secretary David Davis conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall following Brexit. "I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants."

Though Davis insisted that the government would eventually meet its "tens of thousands" target (while sounding rather unconvinced), he added: "The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work."

As my colleague Julia Rampen has charted, Davis's colleagues have inserted similar caveats. Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Secretary, who warned during the referendum that EU immigration could “overwhelm” Britain, has told farmers that she recognises “how important seasonal labour from the EU is to the everyday running of your businesses”. Others, such as the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, and the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, have issued similar guarantees to employers. Brexit is fuelling immigration nimbyism: “Fewer migrants, please, but not in my sector.”

The UK’s vote to leave the EU – and May’s decision to pursue a "hard Brexit" – has deprived the government of a convenient alibi for high immigration. Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past. Brexit may have been caused by the supposed costs of immigration but it is becoming an education in its benefits.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.