Cameron comes home to another Europe revolt

The PM's truce with his backbenchers is under increasing strain.

"He's sold us down the river". So said one party leader of David Cameron's new EU stance. Except the leader in question wasn't Ukip's Nigel Farage but Ed Miliband, speaking on ITV's Daybreak this morning. The Labour leader has annexed the language of betrayal from the Conservative right. He went on: "I'm going to be asking him in the House of Commons today what exactly has he agreed to, what protections has he got for Britain." Do his words, combined with the threat to vote against additional UK funds for the IMF, herald the long-awaited rebirth of Labour euroscepticism?

Whatever the answer turns out to be, it's not hard to see why Miliband is keen to maximise Cameron's political discomfort. The Prime Minister will return from Brussels today to a Conservative revolt over his decision to allow EU countries to use the European Commission and the European Court of Justice to enforce their new "fiscal compact". The Prime Minister's "veto", you'll recall, was supposed to prevent just such an outcome. The government continues to warn of legal action if Britain's interests are "threatened" by the new treaty (in other words, that the single market is undermined) but it's still a U-turn by any measure.

So, what explains this outbreak of pragmatism? In a phrase, Cameron has put economics before politics. The priority, he insists, is to resolve the eurozone crisis by ensuring the swift implementation of the new treaty. It's hard to see how the pact, committing EU members to German-style austerity, will aid European recovery but Cameron's intentions, at least, are good. As the PM commented yesterday:

The key point here for me is what is in our national interest, which is for them to get on and sort out the mess that is the euro. That's in our national interest.

But his backbenchers, many of whom are appalled that the UK is collaborating in the establishment of a fiscal union, don't accept Cameron's logic. The PM's willingness to allow the EU 25 (everyone except the UK and the Czech Republic) to use EU-wide institutions renders his veto meaningless, they argue. Here's Tory MP Douglas Carswell:

I don't see how the veto is really a veto if we allow the fiscal union members to form and to then find ourselves subject to the EU institutions being used to govern that.

With 20 MPs reportedly meeting in Edward Leigh's office last night, we can except plenty of dissenting voices when Cameron delivers his statement on the summit at 3:30pm in the Commons. But what the revolt currently lacks is a frontbencher, Iain Duncan Smith, say, or Owen Paterson, to tighten the noose on the Prime Minister. Until such a figure publicly intervenes, Cameron will probably be able to muddle through. But less than two months on from his celebrated "veto", the truce he struck with his MPs is under increasing strain.

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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