Greece to cancel referendum on bail-out package

After a dramatic day, the Greek PM indicates referendum will be dropped as national unity talks cont

After a day of tumultous political developments, the Greek prime minister, George Papandreou, has said he is ready to drop a proposed referendum on the latest bail-out package from the eurozone. Four ministers, including the Finance Minister, Evangelos Venizelo, opposed the referendum and pressured Papandreou to drop it on the basis that eurozone membership is too important.

The EU bailout, agreed last month, would give the heavily indebted Greek government a further 130bn euros (£111bn; $178bn) and a 50 per cent write-off of its debt. However, to receive this pay-out, the government would have to agree to even more deeply unpopular austerity measures.

Papandreou said the referendum was "never an end in itself". A key part of this decision appears to be opposition politician Antonis Samaras deciding to support the rescue package.

The prime minister's own future is still uncertain. While the BBC reported earlier that he was preparing to resign, Greek state TV said that he had ruled this out. However, the opposition New Democracy party has said it would only be part of a coalition government if Papandreou stood down. Since it looks increasingly likely that a national unity government might be necessary, this could be a problem.

A little closer to home, the UK has admitted that it may have to pay more into the IMF to support Greece's financial recovery. It means some back-pedalling for David Cameron, who has made much of his achievements in restricting Britain's donations to the eurozone bailouts. My colleague Rafael Behr explores this issue in more detail in an earlier Staggers post:

The government (or at least its Conservative side) think it is a terrible idea for sovereign nations to bind themselves into a single currency and yet supports the urgent acceleration of that process. It rejects the contribution of British taxpayers' money to a bailout that might explicitly support a euro stabilisation process but would be happy to contribute to one that helped eurozone countries independently, thereby supporting euro stabilisation indirectly. This is not a sustainable position.

In a public speech, Papandreou retained his trademark composure, but looked pale. He spoke of "wag[ing] a battle of Titanic proportions, our first duty being to fend off bankruptcy, to prevent the country collapsing". The challenge of balancing the contesting demands of foreign lenders and the Greek public appears to have been too much. Even if he survives the coming hours or weeks, it is difficult to see how Papandreou will reinvigorate his spent political capital for much longer.

 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for 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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