Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The Prime Minister's speech on the economy asserted the incredible in defense of the indefensible (Independent)

There are many credible alternatives to the current stance of economic policy, which would deal with the deficit while promoting growth, argue David Blanchflower and Adam Posen.

2. Theresa May-nia won’t become contagious (Times) (£)

The Home Secretary has the grit to be an accomplished PM but her lack of warmth will stop her reaching No 10, says Tim Montgomerie.

3. Cameron's days at No 10 may be numbered, but the national agenda is still set by the right (Independent)

The Prime Minister is surrounded by ideological crusaders and they've succeeded in turning the politically impossible into the politically inevitable, says Owen Jones.

4. Britain needs an activist chancellor (Financial Times)

The coalition government should do more to boost growth, says an FT editorial.

5. The Falklands: a vote with no purpose (Guardian)

Britain is alone in the world if it thinks that the Malvinas referendum will decide this dispute, writes Alicia Castro.

6. A good engineer who knows his own limits (Financial Times)

Ben Bernanke’s Fed has been the only serious US economic actor, says Edward Luce.

7. David Cameron may last even as he leads his MPs to their doom (Guardian)

Tory backbenchers fear a repeat of 1997 at the next election. But that doesn't mean any of them have the courage to act on it, writes Gaby Hinsliff.

8. Ed dreams of win... don’t let him in (Sun)

David Cameron has plenty of room for manoeuvre, says Trevor Kavanagh. But he cannot count on the unpopularity of Ed Miliband to hand him victory.

9. Justice is put to the sword by Moscow’s greed and corruption (Daily Telegraph)

The ludicrous 'trial’ of a whistleblower killed for his pains ranks among Russia’s darkest hours, writes Boris Johnson.

10. Liberal Democrats: heartlands (Guardian)

Nick Clegg still feels the sacrifices are worth it, but this is becoming an increasingly difficult line to sustain, says a Guardian editorial.

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Even before Brexit, immigrants are shunning the UK

The 49,000 fall in net migration will come at a cost.

Article 50 may not have been triggered yet but immigrants are already shunning the UK. The number of newcomers fell by 23,000 to 596,000 in the year to last September, with a sharp drop in migrants from the EU8 states (such as Poland and the Czech Republic). Some current residents are trying their luck elsewhere: emigration rose by 26,000 to 323,000. Consequently, net migration has fallen by 49,000 to 273,000, far above the government's target of "tens of thousands" but the lowest level since June 2014.

The causes of the UK's reduced attractiveness are not hard to discern. The pound’s depreciation (which makes British wages less competitive), the spectre of Brexit and a rise in hate crimes and xenophobia are likely to be the main deterrents (though numbers from Romania and Bulgaria remain healthy). Ministers have publicly welcomed the figures but many privately acknowledge that they come at a price. The OBR recently forecast that lower migration would cost £6bn a year by 2020-21. As well as reflecting weaker growth, reduced immigration is likely to reinforce it. Migrants pay far more in tax than they claim in benefits, with a net 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.

Earlier this week, David Davis revealed the government's economic anxieties when he told a press conference in Estonia: "In the hospitality sector, hotels and restaurants, in the social care sector, working in agriculture, it will take time. It will be years and years before we get British citizens to do those jobs. Don’t expect just because we’re changing who makes the decision on the policy, the door will suddenly shut - it won’t."

But Theresa May, whose efforts to meet the net migration target as Home Secretary were obstructed by the Treasury, is determined to achieve a lasting reduction in immigration. George Osborne, her erstwhile adversary, recently remarked: "The government has chosen – and I respect this decision – not to make the economy the priority." But in her subsequent interview with the New Statesman, May argued: "It is possible to achieve an outcome which is both a good result for the economy and is a good result for people who want us to control immigration – to be able to set our own rules on the immigration of people coming from the European Union. It is perfectly possible to find an arrangement and a partnership with the EU which does that."

Much depends on how "good" is defined. The British economy is resilient enough to endure a small reduction in immigration but a dramatic fall would severely affect growth. Not since 1997 has "net migration" been in the "tens of thousands". As Davis acknowledged, the UK has since become dependent on high immigration. Both the government and voters may only miss migrants when they're gone.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.