Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Bombing Iran is the way to make sure it gets the bomb (Financial Times)

There has never been a better time for the US to properly test Tehran’s intentions by suggesting everything-on-the-table bilateral negotiations, writes Philip Stephens.

2. Jeremy Hunt's in-tray will wipe that smile off his face (Guardian)

His job is to schmooze the public into accepting NHS changes, but the turmoil he inherits will make that nearly impossible, says Polly Toynbee.

3. Eds won't split – they know there's too much at stake (Independent)

There will be no repeat of the Blair/Brown rivalry that still traumatises Labour, says Steve Richards.

4. Shale - the hidden treasure that could transform our economy (Daily Telegraph)

Cameron’s U-turn on the environment has the greens howling, but should delight voters, says Fraser Nelson.

5. Draghi’s plan is a bold one, but who will bite? (Times) (£)

Spain may look at the European Central Bank’s plans, look at Greece and say "no thank you", writes Stephen King.

6. Don't blame the countryside for our lack of housing (Guardian)

Britain is desperately inefficient in its land use, and there are still no measures to bring empty property back on the market, writes Simon Jenkins.

7. An extensions free-for-all? It’ll be war (Daily Telegraph)

The coalition’s looser planning rules will spark chaos in the nation’s back yards and won't get building going, writes Clive Aslet.

8. Castro v Rubio – fight for the Latino vote (Financial Times)

Hispanics could determine the election and will only become more vital, says Jacob Weisberg.

9. Flirting Labour party is bankrupt of ideas (Daily Mail)

There was no acknowledgement of the need to shrink the bloated state, says a Daily Mail editorial.

10. More can still be done to get Britain growing (Daily Telegraph)

The government's response is a pragmatic one, but it's only the beginning, says a Telegraph leader.

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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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