George Osborne is given a tour of the production line at Bentley Motors on December 4, 2014 in Crewe. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Fastest US growth for 11 years spoils Osborne's boast

The Chancellor can no longer declare that the UK is the fastest growing major economy.

One of George Osborne's favourite boasts is that the UK is "the fastest growing of any major advanced economy in the world" (as declared in the second line of his Autumn Statement). That was true at the time, with Britain growing at an annual rate of 3 per cent, but revisions today have spoilt the Chancellor's brag.

Earlier today, the ONS downgraded year-on-year growth in the UK from 3 per cent to 2.6 per cent, leaving Britain behind Australia and the United States. Now, just to sharpen the contrast, annual US growth in Q3 has been revised up to 5 per cent: the fastest rate for 11 years and comfortably ahead of the 2.8 per cent posted by the UK over the same quarter. It's true, of course, that the UK has suffered more than its competitors from the stagnation of the eurozone (net trade is down) but Osborne can't make the comparison in good times and then reject it in bad times. And while US GDP is now 8.9 per cent above its pre-recession peak, the UK's is just 2.9 per cent above. 

After this, and Labour's blindsiding of him on spending cuts, the Chancellor would be wise to return a more humble figure in the new year. 

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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