Nick Clegg speaks at Bloomberg's London headquarters on June 9, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Clegg's new stance on EU immigration shows he has learned from his defeat to Farage

The Lib Dem leader cannot afford to look intensely relaxed about tens of thousands of newcomers. 

One of Nick Clegg's worst moments in his debates with Nigel Farage came when he was asked what the EU would look like in 10 years' time. His response - "I suspect it’ll be quite similar to what it is now" - may have been honest but as Lib Dem strategists later acknowledged, it made him appear hopelessly wedded to an unsatisfactory status quo. 

With this in mind, Clegg's speech tomorrow on EU immigration is his most significant attempt to date to demonstrate that he "gets" the need for reform. While defending the principle of freedom of movement, he will argue that migrants from new member states should not be allowed to move to other EU countries by registering as self-employed while transitional controls are in place. 

He will say: 

When Romania and Bulgaria joined, Labour said no one from those countries would arrive ahead of the transition controls being lifted at the beginning of this year.

Yet 60,000 Romanians and Bulgarians were already working here through a loophole for anyone who registered as self-employed.

Is it any wonder – when people have been repeatedly told one thing only to then see another - that so many have lost faith in government’s ability to manage the flow of migrants from new EU states?

Clegg will promise that the Lib Dems will "argue for the removal of the special exemption for the self-employed" and will "insist on it" if they are in government after the next election. "This loophole can’t be forced on Britain and we mustn’t accept it."

He will also propose allowing EU countries to "put the brakes on" immigration from new member states "if people begin arriving in numbers too big for our society to absorb successfully". This would mean giving Britain and others the right to extend transitional controls beyond the current maximum of seven years. 

It is worth reflecting how significantly the Lib Dems' stance has changed since the 2010 election, when they argued for a (now abandoned) policy of "earned citizenship" for illegal immigrants. Their repositioning means that all three of the main parties now support tougher controls on future EU migration. 

The danger for the Lib Dems is that their new policy will alienate those liberals who welcomed their unashamedly pro-immigration policy, but as the party's MPs will tell you, plenty of their voters, most notably in the south west, are far from relaxed about an open borders approach. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.