Will Boris and Cameron go to war over the Budget?

Mayor warns that London must be spared from “dramatic and deep cuts”.

The dramatic spending cuts planned by the coalition government have yet to produce any significant divisions on the Conservative side, but that may have changed today with the intervention of Boris Johnson.

Boris, who rarely misses an opportunity to provoke David Cameron, told the London Assembly that he was fighting to protect the capital from the "dramatic and deep cuts" announced by the Chancellor, George Osborne.

In particular, he is desperate to secure the future of the £16bn Crossrail project and vital Tube upgrades.

He said: "It is quite wrong to treat us [London] in the same way as other, more spendthrift areas of Whitehall."

Cameron will be reluctant to concede to Boris. The coalition's mantra remains "We're all in this together": no exceptions can be made (the £110bn NHS budget aside). And among voters there is a widespread perception that London has received preferential treatment for far too long.

But the Prime Minister and his allies will be troubled by Boris's intervention all the same. After Michael Gove was forced to announce that many schools weren't going to be rebuilt after all, we witnessed the unusual spectacle of Conservative MPs (Ian Liddell-Grainger, Philip Davies) against Tory cuts.

As cuts move steadily from the abstract to the specific, we can expect others to join them. In every case, the MP in question will insist that while reducing the country's £149bn Budget deficit remains the priority, an exception should be made for them and their constituents.

Boris, the man still seem by some as the party's leader-in-waiting, could yet become a rallying point for anti-cuts Tories.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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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