James Harding resigns as editor of The Times

His departure was "at the request of News Corp".

James Harding, the youngest ever editor of the Times, has resigned after five years.

His departure was announced in an address to staff at 3.30pm, and was "at the request of News Corp". He is due to appear on BBC's Question Time tomorrow.

Lech Mintowt-Czyz, the paper's news editor, tweeted: "His staff, me included, just gave him a long standing ovation." His colleague Patrick Kidd added: "Feel immensely saddened by James Harding's enforced resignation, like when Andrew Strauss went. Universally admired, a real positive force."

In a statement to staff, Harding said: "It has been made clear to me that News Corporation would like to appoint a new editor of the Times. I have therefore agreed to stand down. I called Rupert this morning to offer my resignation and he accepted." 

He referenced the paper's campaigns on cycling deaths, its coverage of child sex abuse rings and the work of his foreign and deputy editors as being memories of which he was particularly proud. 

The BBC's Robert Peston has tweeted that John Witherow will move from the Sunday Times to replace Harding, but this has not been confirmed by the company.

There are currently wider changes at News Corporation under way. Robert Thomson, the current managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, was recently named as the head of News Corporation’s new separate publishing arm. His appointment prompted the resignation of News International chief executive and Murdoch veteran Tom Mockridge, who had hoped to take on the role. News Corp has yet to announce a replacement for Mockridge. Gerard Baker, the deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal, will succeed Thomson as head of the News Corp-owned paper.

Harding was known as a cerebral and calm editor. His paper's coverage of the hacking scandal - which affected his sister paper, the News of the World - was praised for its fairness and objectivity. It appears likely that his departure heralds more integration between the daily and Sunday operations.

In the November ABC figures, the Times's circulation was measured at 399,321 copies, a year-on-year fall of 3.37 per cent.

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James Harding. Photo: Getty

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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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.