Are the Tories set to ditch their immigration cap?

Coalition announces review of unworkable policy.

It looks as if the Tories may finally have realised that their plan to impose a cap on immigration from outside the EU is neither desirable nor workable.

Today's Financial Times reports that the policy is under review, amid new evidence that it will damage the British economy and provoke a cabinet revolt.

George Osborne's new budgetary watchdog, the Office for Budget Reponsibility (OBR), recently cut its forecast for "trend growth" from 2.75 per cent to 2 per cent from 2014 onwards, primarily because it fears Britain's labour force will not be large enough to sustain it. The conclusion was clear: we need more babies or more immigrants.

At the same time, the OBR warned that Cameron may fail to meet his long-standing promise to "reduce net migration to tens of thousands not hundreds of thousands", a level not seen since the days of the Major government.

Immigration fell significantly during the recession (see chart), but net migration of 163,000 in 2008 indicates that Cameron would need to cut immigration by at least 38 per cent to bring the total to less than 100,000. Privately, Tories speak of an even more unrealistic target of 50,000.

Net migration chart

Cameron's promise remains unfeasible for several reasons. For a start, the government cannot limit immigration from within the EU without restricting the free movement of labour and throwing the UK's continued membership into doubt.

Cameron's policy also ignores the 39,000 people who come to the UK on spousal visas after marrying British citizens abroad.

For now, it seems the cap will be "modified" rather than abandoned, but this is still a good time to have the argument all over again.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn may be a Eurosceptic, but he still appeals to the values of many Remainers

He reassures Labour MPs defending majorities in heavily pro-EU areas that things will be OK.

There are two facts about Brexit that everyone seems to forget every few weeks: the first is that Jeremy Corbyn is a Eurosceptic. The second is that the first fact doesn't really matter.

The Labour leader's hostility to the European project is back in the news after he told Andrew Marr that the United Kingdom's membership of the single market was inextricably linked with its EU membership, and added for good measure that the “wholesale importation” of people from Eastern and Central Europe had been used to “destroy” the conditions of workers, particularly in the construction industry.

As George Eaton observes on Twitter, Corbyn voted against the creation of the single market in 1986 (and the Maastricht Treaty, and the Lisbon Treaty, and so on and so on). It would be a bigger shock if the Labour leader weren't advocating for a hard exit from the European Union.

Here's why it doesn't matter: most Labour MPs agree with him. There is not a large number of Labour votes in the House of Commons that would switch from opposing single market membership to supporting it if Corbyn changed his mind. (Perhaps five or so from the frontbenches and the same again on the backbenches.)

There is a way that Corbyn matters: in reassuring Labour MPs defending majorities in heavily pro-Remain areas that things will be OK. Imagine for a moment the reaction among the liberal left if, say, Yvette Cooper or Stephen Kinnock talked about the “wholesale importation” of people or claimed that single market membership and EU membership were one and the same. Labour MPs in big cities and university towns would be a lot more nervous about bleeding votes to the Greens or the Liberal Democrats were they not led by a man who for all his longstanding Euroscepticism appeals to the values of so many Remain voters.

Corbyn matters because he provides electoral insurance against a position that Labour MPs are minded to follow anyway. And that, far more than the Labour leader's view on the Lisbon Treaty, is why securing a parliamentary majority for a soft exit from the European Union is so hard. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.