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Michael Gove gambles as he rejects single market membership

The Leave campaign's move offers its opponents new economic ammunition. 

For months, EU supporters have been demanding clarity from the Leave campaign on what post-Brexit model it would seek. Would it seek to remain in the single market (like Norway) and risk the loss of sovereignty? (Existing members are required to accept the free movement of people, obey EU law and contribute to the European budget.) Or would it leave the single market and risk the loss of economic activity? The ambiguity has allowed Remain to accuse Leave of adopting Boris Johnon's policy on cake: "pro having it and pro eating it". 

Today, in a lengthy, cerebral and frequently humorous speech, Michael Gove ate his cake. He announced that the UK would not apply for membership of the single market but would instead seek a free trade agreement with the EU. While few dispute that this could be achieved (as Gove noted, the free trade area includes Bosnia, Serbia, Albania and the Ukraine), the In campaign will warn that it would come at a severe cost. 

Withdrawal from the single market, which the UK joined under Margaret Thatcher in 1986, would mean an end to the single market in financial services - one of the UK's greatest assets. When challenged on this point in the Q&A that followed, Gove insisted that the "ingenuity" of the City of London would allow it to continue to flourish. But Mark Carney and bank heads have warned of lost jobs, higher prices, fewer businesses and reduced investment. 

The Leave campaign is attempting to overshadow this spectre by vowing that the UK would regain control of its borders and laws. Its hope is that anxiety over immigration and sovereignty will trump financial fears. But the Remain campaign, which has relentlessly focused on the economic case against withdrawal, is confident that its strategy will prevail. As recent losers Alex Salmond, Nigel Farage and Ed Miliband can testify, few have ever triumphed without without securing victory on this front. 

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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