Where does Clegg stand?

The leader of the most pro-European party has yet to comment on last night's deal.

Where do the Lib Dems, the most pro-European party in British politics, stand on last night's extraordinary events? William Hague told the Today programme that Nick Clegg had "signed up" to the deal but it would be nice to hear from the man himself. Six weeks ago, Clegg, a former Eurocrat and MEP, warned against the emergence of a "a weaker and divisive Europe where the aims of 'euro-ins' are set against those of 'euro-outs'" but that's exactly what's happened.

Lib Dem rebel Matthew Oakeshott has already described this as "a black day for Britain and for Europe", attacking Cameron for appeasing the "special interests in the City of London". More will surely break ranks. One suspects that David Owen, the former leader of the SDP, who is now a crossbench peer, spoke for many in Clegg's party when he said:

We have to ask ourselves why the government has allowed us to get into this mess. Have we been coherently governed over the last few months? Is this coalition able to represent British interests? Or are we being driven by about 80 to 90 Conservatives who want us to get out of the EU?

If Clegg really has accepted the emergence of a two-speed Europe, it would represent his biggest U-turn to date.

Update: Clegg has now issued a statement on last night's events. Here's the key section:

I regret that last night it proved to be impossible to find a way forward as a group of 27 on European treaty change.

I have said for months that it would be best to avoid arcane debates about treaty change altogether and if we had to proceed down that road, it would be best to do so in a way that did not create divisions in Europe

The demands Britain made for safeguards, on which the Coalition Government was united, were modest and reasonable. They were safeguards for the single market, not just the UK.

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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