Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Big trouble from little Cyprus (Financial Times)

The calamity that has struck the island threatens wider damage, writes Martin Wolf.

2. D-Day Budget for would-be Chancellor Ed Balls (Daily Telegraph)

Labour's shadow chancellor is feared in Downing Street, but he has not silenced doubters in his own party, writes Mary Riddell.

3. Press regulation: a victory for the rich, the celebrated and the powerful (Guardian)

This new press regulator is all about revenge, not justice, says Simon Jenkins. It's hard to imagine a more chilling deterrent to serious investigation.

4. Labour's chance to lead fiscal policy (Financial Times)

The party should commit to reducing the ratio of public debt to GDP, writes Nick Pearce.

5. Iraq war: make it impossible to inflict such barbarism again (Guardian)

The US and Britain not only bathed Iraq in blood, they promoted a sectarian war that now threatens the region, says Seumas Milne.

6. No turning back. And no rabbits from hats (Times) (£)

The Chancellor cannot afford any bold or tricksy stunts when deficit reduction is the only course to pursue, says Daniel Finkelstein.

7. The Budget of 2018: Future governments will have to learn how to do more with less (Independent)

For 25 years, tax revenue has been stuck at around 38 per cent of GDP, notes Hamish McRae. No government has been able to increase it.

8. If they had a scintilla of decency, Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and John Scarlett would not show their faces in public again (Daily Mail)

The former prime minister and his spin doctor have wrought such tragedy and grief in the world that they should be regarded as pariahs, says Max Hastings. 

9. Will George Osborne make his mark or show himself as unambitious? (Daily Telegraph)

This Budget will tell us whether George Osborne is content with going down in history as an unambitious, steady as he goes apparatchik, says Allister Heath.

10. François Hollande: Mr Normal takes a battering (Guardian)

The French president's promise to stabilise and reverse unemployment by the end of the year is looking like yet another broken election pledge, notes a Guardian editorial.

Paul McMillan
Show Hide image

"We're an easy target": how a Tory manifesto pledge will tear families apart

Under current rules, bringing your foreign spouse to the UK is a luxury reserved for those earning £18,600 a year or more. The Tories want to make it even more exclusive. 

Carolyn Matthew met her partner, George, in South Africa sixteen years ago. She settled down with him, had kids, and lived like a normal family until last year, when they made the fateful decision to move to her hometown in Scotland. Matthew, 55, had elderly parents, and after 30 years away from home she wanted to be close to them. 

But Carolyn nor George - despite consulting a South African immigration lawyer – did not anticipate one huge stumbling block. That is the rule, introduced in 2012, that a British citizen must earn £18,600 a year before a foreign spouse may join them in the UK. 

“It is very dispiriting,” Carolyn said to me on the telephone from Bo’ness, a small town on the Firth of Forth, near Falkirk. “In two weeks, George has got to go back to South Africa.” Carolyn, who worked in corporate complaints, has struggled to find the same kind of work in her hometown. Jobs at the biggest local employer tend to be minimum wage. George, on the other hand, is an engineer – yet cannot work because of his holiday visa. 

To its critics, the minimum income threshold seems nonsensical. It splits up families – including children from parents – and discriminates against those likely to earn lower wages, such as women, ethnic minorities and anyone living outside London and the South East. The Migration Observatory has calculated that roughly half Britain’s working population would not meet the requirement. 

Yet the Conservative party not only wishes to maintain the policy, but hike the threshold. The manifesto stated:  “We will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas.” 

Initially, the threshold was justified as a means of preventing foreign spouses from relying on the state. But tellingly, the Tory manifesto pledge comes under the heading of “Controlling Immigration”. 

Carolyn points out that because George cannot work while he is visiting her, she must support the two of them for months at a time without turning to state aid. “I don’t claim benefits,” she told me. “That is the last thing I want to do.” If both of them could work “life would be easy”. She believes that if the minimum income threshold is raised any further "it is going to make it a nightmare for everyone".

Stuart McDonald, the SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, co-sponsored a Westminster Hall debate on the subject earlier this year. While the Tory manifesto pledge is vague, McDonald warns that one option is the highest income threshold suggested in 2012 - £25,700, or more than the median yearly wage in the East Midlands. 

He described the current scheme as “just about the most draconian family visa rules in the world”, and believes a hike could affect more than half of British citizens. 

"Theresa May is forcing people to choose between their families and their homes in the UK - a choice which most people will think utterly unfair and unacceptable,” he said.  

For those a pay rise away from the current threshold, a hike will be demoralising. For Paul McMillan, 25, it is a sign that it’s time to emigrate.

McMillan, a graduate, met his American girlfriend Megan while travelling in 2012 (the couple are pictured above). He could find a job that will allow him to meet the minimum income threshold – if he were not now studying for a medical degree.  Like Matthew, McMillan’s partner has no intention of claiming benefits – in fact, he expects her visa would specifically ban her from doing so. 

Fed up with the hostile attitude to immigrants, and confident of his options elsewhere, McMillan is already planning a career abroad. “I am going to take off in four years,” he told me. 

As for why the Tories want to raise the minimum income threshold, he thinks it’s obvious – to force down immigration numbers. “None of this is about the amount of money we need to earn,” he said. “We’re an easy target for the government.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

0800 7318496