Web Only: the best of the blogs

The five must-read posts from today, on National Insurance, the Pope's UK visit and MPs' allowances.

1. Osborne's £3bn tax black hole

Left Foot Forward's Will Straw says that George Osborne's promise to reverse part of Labour's National Insurance rise leaves a £3bn gap in the Tories' tax-raising plans.

2. National Insurance and waste

Hopi Sen pulls out an old quotation showing what David Cameron really thinks about efficiency savings, which the Tories claim will pay for the cut in National Insurance.

3. St Vince apologises to the Treasury

Vince Cable has apologised to the Treasury after giving the misleading impression that he was invited in to discuss the possibility of becoming chancellor, reports Benedict Brogan.

4. What reception will the Pope receive in Britain?

Catholic sources fear that more revelations of child abuse will emerge before the Pope's visit, reports Jon Snow.

5. IPSA pronouncement on MPs: One wife good, two wives bad

The FT's Jim Pickard explains the oddly fudged compromise on MPs allowances -- they can still hire one "connected party", but no more than that.

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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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