Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. The perilous drift to intervention in Syria (Financial Times)

The most telling argument against action remains that the consequences are incalculable, writes Gideon Rachman.

2. Perhaps Osborne is a fine political tactician. But is his economic medicine working? (Independent)

The Chancellor is often the main victim of his wily initiatives, writes Steve Richards.

3. Making hard calls on major issues – the Tory strategy for re-election (Daily Telegraph)

This week’s Autumn Statement should mark a return to realistic, solid government, says Benedict Brogan.

4. Morsi has left Egypt on the brink (Financial Times)

The country is divided between Islamists and the rest and risks civil war, writes Mohamed ElBaradei.

5. Israel must take heed of its friends (Daily Telegraph)

William Hague was right to differ from Israel’s government over the expansion of settlements, says a Telegraph leader.

6. Tories at half-time: cruel and inept, with worse to come (Guardian)

The autumn statement falls on an inauspicious day – Cameron's halfway mark – and is likely to unleash yet more chaos, says Polly Toynbee.

7. We’ll only win this war if banks lend (Daily Mail)

The banks are failing to help Britain recover from the disaster they created, says a Daily Mail editorial.

8. In the battle of the budget, who’s fair wins (Times) (£)

The Chancellor’s challenge is as much about values as maths, says Rachel Sylvester. He can’t afford to misjudge again how voters feel.

9. This is Europe's big chance to help the two-state solution become reality (Guardian)

The EU and its consumers can put pressure on Israel to end expansion of its illegal settlements, say Mary Robinson and Martti Ahtisaari.

10. There’s more trust in business giants than the MPs who call them immoral (Independent)

We should be wary of legislators when they talk morality, writes Dominic Lawson.

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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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