Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. The truth is we are all living on Benefits Street (Guardian)

Everyone is on the take, and whole industries are on white-collar subsidies, writes Simon Jenkins. Some of us are just smarter at concealing it.

2. Dave and Nick, time to prepare your divorce papers (Times)

The coalition must run right up to the election, but there is a danger of civil war unless a strategy is put in place, writes Daniel Finkelstein. 

3. Britain is educating its children for jobs that soon won’t exist (Daily Telegraph)

The fate of the 'Neets’ is tragic, but they aren’t the only ones being failed by the system, says Mary Riddell. 

4. 5 ways to cheer up the Tories (and kill off the 'nasty party') (Guardian)

Asking Conservatives to stop sounding negative may be naive but I agree with Nicky Morgan: they need a change of tone, says Melissa Kite.

5. This evil should shame us into halting Assad (Times)

Britain can no longer avert its eyes from the brutal reality of life, and death, in Syria’s Dark Ages, says Roger Boyes. 

6. It’s time to reject crony capitalism and embrace the real thing (Daily Telegraph)

The solution is to promote competition, tear up barriers to entry, unleash consumer choice, and eliminate subsidies and soft loans, says Allister Heath. 

7. Cost of living? What about the cost of being dead? (Guardian)

The spiralling price of funerals is a symptom of the triumph of the market and the accompanying poverty of civic life, writes Zoe Williams.

8. The very model of a modern central banker (Financial Times)

Ben Bernanke, outgoing chairman, deserves credit for the Fed’s handling of the crisis, says Martin Wolf.

9. There's optimism in the global economy - but only the wealthy are feeling the effects (Independent)

In the UK, it is ‘fat cats’; here in the US, it is Wall Street versus Main Street, writes Hamish McRae. 

10. For truth on immigration, look to the Bard not politicians (Financial Times)

The debate has not been changed by new facts so much as the complexion of the government, writes John Kay. 

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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.