Shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves during an appearance on the BBC's Sunday Politics.
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Labour outflanks the Tories on immigrant benefits

Rachel Reeves suggests migrants should be denied welfare until they have contributed through the tax system. 

When David Cameron announced earlier this week that EU migrants would only be entitled to claim benefits for three months (after a waiting period of three months), Labour's main criticism was that it was too little, too late. Yvette Cooper said: "It's almost a year and a half since Labour called for benefit restrictions on new migrants. In that time we've had reannouncement after reannouncement from the Tories but little in the way of firm action."

Following this logic, Labour is now pushing for Cameron to go further. In her interview with the Sun on Sunday, Rachel Reeves suggests that migrants should be denied benefits until they have contributed through the tax system. 

"It isn’t right that somebody who has worked hard all their lives and has contributed to the system is entitled to only the same as somebody who has just come to this country, so we need to look at that," she says. "It shouldn’t be that you can draw on the system without having contributed."

As things stand, this change would likely fall foul of EU rules requiring parity of treatment between migrants and domestic workers. But Reeves suggests Labour would either "work with partners in Europe to reform the system", or "[change] our system so it is better based on contributions". The latter option would mean denying British citizens benefits unless they have contributed. 

Reeves's comments add to what is a large list of proposed EU reforms from Labour. Ed Balls told yesterday's Telegraph: "We have lots of rules that fetter movement. We think you should toughen up those rules. You shouldn’t be free to work in Britain and send back tax credits. You shouldn’t be free to come to Britain and be unemployed. You shouldn’t be free to come to Britain as soon as your country joins the EU" (he spoke not of "fair movement" but of "free movement"). 

The criticism from the Tories will be that none of this can be achieved without the threat of withdrawal provided by an in/out referendum (one that Boris Johnson today advises David Cameron to make explicit). But given Cameron's lack of success to date, most notably over Jean Claude-Juncker's appointment as EU commission president, Labour can reasonably argue that blackmail diplomacy won't work. 

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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