Christie rules himself out

The New Jersey Governor's decision not to stand for the 2012 GOP candidacy makes life much easier fo

For weeks it seemed he had been preparing the ground for a run at the White House, but on Tuesday Chris Christie, the charismatic Republican Governor of New Jersey who has long enjoyed support among Democratic voters, officially ruled himself out of the race to be the GOP 2012 presidential candidate. In a carefully choreographed press conference at his statehouse in Trenton, on a stage bedecked with the Stars and Stripes, Christie told the assembled national media that "[although] serious people from across the spectrum, not to mention from all across the country, had passionately [called on me to run]... now is not my time".

Christie had been encouraged to enter the field by a number of high profile figures on the American right - including Henry Kissinger and Rudy Giuliani - after Rick Perry, the former front-runner, stumbled in the latest round of TV debates. He had also won the backing of some extremely wealthy and influential Republican donaors, not least industrialist David Koch and hedge fund manager Paul Singer. It is likely their support will now transfer to Mitt Romney, a centrist with a track record of fiscal conservatism.

Unlike Christie, however, Romney is deeply unpopular with the GOP's Tea Party contingent, which considers his role in implementing a version of Obama's healthcare legislation as Governor of Massachusetts tantamount to treason. It is also wary of his apparent inconsistency on flagship 'moral' issues like gay marriage and stem-cell research. Yet the fact is, his chances of winning the candidacy stand or fall on his ability to persuade the grass-roots radicals that, despite looking, sounding and acting like a moderate with occasional liberal sympathies, he is really one of them.

Romney's dilemma is indicative of the wider challenge facing the Republicans in their bid to remove Obama from office next year. On the one hand the party has to put up a nominee capable of galvanising an activist base which sits well the right of the American mainstream, and on the other it has to find someone who appeals to the politically moderate majority. Perry, Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul can do the former but probably not the latter, while Romney and Jon Huntsman can achieve the latter but probably not the former.

Conversely, in President Obama the Democrats have a candidate perfectly equipped to achieve such a feat of triangulation. Having committed himself to a deficit reduction strategy based largely on public spending cuts, he will be able to draw in the right of his own party and the left of the Republicans. At the same time, the $450bn employment package he announced last month will go some way toward securing the votes of the lower-middle and working class constituency which propelled him to victory in 2008, but which has since grown disgruntled with his presidency.

It is likely Christie took all this into account when he made his decision not to stand. In his Tuesday media address he was, however, careful not to rule out a future tilt at Washington. 2012 is going to be a tough year for the Republicans. 2016 may not be so be quite so difficult.

James Maxwell is a Scottish political journalist. He is based between Scotland and London.

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The Brexit effect: The fall in EU migration spells trouble for the UK

The 84,000 fall in net migration to 248,000 will harm an economy that is dependent on immigration.

The UK may not have left the EU yet but Europeans are already leaving it. New figures from the ONS show that 117,000 EU citizens emigrated in 2016 (up 31,000 from 2015) - the highest level for six years. The exodus was most marked among eastern Europeans, with a fall in immigration from the EU8 countries to 48,000 (down 25,000) and a rise in emigration to 43,000 (up 16,000).

As a result, net migration has fallen to 248,000 (down 84,000), the lowest level since 2014. That's still nearly more than double the Conservatives' target of "tens of thousands a year" (reaffirmed in their election manifesto) but the trend is unmistakable. The number of international students, who Theresa May has refused to exclude from the target (despite cabinet pleas), fell by 32,000 to 136,000. And all this before the government has imposed new controls on free movement.

The causes of the UK's unattractiveness are not hard to discern. The pound’s depreciation (which makes British wages less competitive), the spectre of Brexit (May has refused to guarantee EU citizens the right to remain) and a rise in hate crimes and xenophobia are likely to be the main deterrents. Ministers may publicly welcome the figures but many privately acknowledge that they come at a price. The OBR recently forecast that lower migration would cost £6bn a year by 2020-21. As well as reflecting weaker growth, reduced immigration is likely to reinforce it. Migrants pay far more in tax than they claim in benefits, with a net 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.

Brexit has in fact forced ministers to increasingly acknowledge an uncomfortable 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. Brexit secretary David Davis, for instance, recently conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall after the UK leaves the EU. "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 (a level not seen since 1997), 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.”

Alongside the new immigration figures, GDP growth in the first quarter of 2017 was revised down to 0.2 per cent - the weakest performance since Q4 2012. In recent history, there has only been one reliable means of reducing net migration: a recession. Newcomers from the EU halved after the 2008 crash. Should the UK suffer the downturn that historic trends predict, it will need immigrants more than ever. Both the government and voters may only miss migrants when they're gone.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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