Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-reads from this morning's comment pages.

  1. We protested against violence in Gaza, but this time we weren't called traitors (Guardian
    Step by step, the protests of the radical Israeli left can help to change fossilised political attitudes, writes Joshua Sobol.
  2. Call a truce, before centuries of free speech are brought to an end (Telegraph)
    With MPs eager to take power over the press, the Prime Minister must lead them back from the cliff edge, argues Fraser Nelson.
  3. A scheme designed to net trillions from global tax havens is being scuppered (Guardian)
    Switzerland and other offshore specialists are doing their best to frustrate international transparency in taxation, writes Nicholas Shaxson
  4. Why is Barack Obama swanning around Asia as the Middle East goes up in flames? (Independent)
    The most clear-sighted and intellectual President in a century or more is in the wrong place, writes Adrian Hamilton
  5. EU budget: it is selfish of Eurosceptics to try to force David Cameron’s hand (Telegraph)
    With Europe on the brink, now is the time for magnanimity, not self-serving posturing, writes Peter Oborne.
  6. Britain’s policy echoes Habsburg decline (Financial Times, £)
    The main message of the Bank of England’s recent inflation report is that the outlook is gloomy and the risks are on the downside, but nothing much can be done about it, argues Samuel Brittan.
  7. Doping prisoners harms them – and us too (Telegraph)
    Treating inmates with drugs such as methadone is a sure way to increase crime, writes Will Self
  8. Don’t underestimate Miliband. He’s like Attlee (Times, £)
    I’ve known all the Labour leaders back to 1935. This one understands the need for unity, writes William Rees-Mogg
  9. My dear old mother, women bishops and a Monty Python moment that could sink the C of E (Daily Mail)
    "My fear is that the triumphant, zealous minority in the House of Laity may have hastened the Church of England's transformation from a national institution into an exclusive, unwelcoming sect for the religious", writes Tom Utley
  10. The Palestinians need business – not bombs (Times, £)
    A thriving West Bank and Gaza would have no truck with religious extremists who threaten their prosperity, argues Philip Collins
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Brexit is teaching the UK that it needs immigrants

Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past.

Why did the UK vote to leave the EU? For conservatives, Brexit was about regaining parliamentary sovereignty. For socialists it was about escaping the single market. For still more it was a chance to punish David Cameron and George Osborne. But supreme among the causes was the desire to reduce immigration.

For years, as the government repeatedly missed its target to limit net migration to "tens of thousands", the EU provided a convenient scapegoat. The free movement of people allegedly made this ambition unachievable (even as non-European migration oustripped that from the continent). When Cameron, the author of the target, was later forced to argue that the price of leaving the EU was nevertheless too great, voters were unsurprisingly unconvinced.

But though the Leave campaign vowed to gain "control" of immigration, it was careful never to set a formal target. As many of its senior figures knew, reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year would come at an economic price (immigrants make a net fiscal contribution of £7bn a year). An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent. For the UK, with its poor productivity and sub-par infrastructure, immigration has long been an economic boon. 

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, some cabinet members hoped that she would abolish the net migration target in a "Nixon goes to China" moment. But rather than retreating, the former Home Secretary doubled down. She regards the target as essential on both political and policy grounds (and has rejected pleas to exempt foreign students). But though the same goal endures, Brexit is forcing ministers to reveal a rarely spoken truth: Britain needs immigrants.

Those who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce the number of newcomers have been forced to qualify their remarks. On last night's Question Time, Brexit secretary David Davis conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall following Brexit. "I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants."

Though Davis insisted that the government would eventually meet its "tens of thousands" target (while sounding rather unconvinced), he added: "The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work."

As my colleague Julia Rampen has charted, Davis's colleagues have inserted similar caveats. Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Secretary, who warned during the referendum that EU immigration could “overwhelm” Britain, has told farmers that she recognises “how important seasonal labour from the EU is to the everyday running of your businesses”. Others, such as the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, and the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, have issued similar guarantees to employers. Brexit is fuelling immigration nimbyism: “Fewer migrants, please, but not in my sector.”

The UK’s vote to leave the EU – and May’s decision to pursue a "hard Brexit" – has deprived the government of a convenient alibi for high immigration. Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past. Brexit may have been caused by the supposed costs of immigration but it is becoming an education in its benefits.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.