Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. While dubious mortality rates grab headlines, NHS privatisation gallops on (Guardian)

The ferocity of the battle over 'dangerous' hospitals was not synthetic, says Polly Toynbee. The future of the NHS itself is under attack.

2. German fear of past jeopardises Europe (Financial Times)

The onus is on Berlin is to show it is ready to lead, writes Mark Mazower.

3. The world must learn from India’s two nations (Times)

The fatal poisoning of 23 children shows that growth and democracy are not enough, writes Philip Collins. You need good government too.

4. We have to wean the country off the drug of immigration (Daily Telegraph)

Education and welfare reforms, not imported labour, are the way to solve our mounting debt, argues Fraser Nelson.

5. David Cameron has failed to resist the lunchtime lobbyists' lure (Guardian)

In opposition, he saw the scandal coming, writes Simon Jenkins. But in office the PM has cosied up to corporate figures like Lynton Crosby.

6. Italy must throw out its racist politics (Financial Times)

The nation is stranded in the past regarding gender and racial equality, writes Philip Stephens.

7. Bad news: house prices are bubbling up again (Times)

The latest forecast is a 13% rise, writes Ed Conway. But will voters thank Osborne for stoking up the market?

8. Better a turbocharged backbencher than a ministerial drudge (Daily Telegraph)

A rebellious MP can have more effect on the direction of the party than an obedient minister, says Isabel Hardman.

9. Red Ed's picked this union dinosaur to clean up Labour's vote rigging scandal (Daily Mail)

Ray Collins is indelibly associated with corrupt elections and smears, says Andrew Pierce.

10. There is no ‘golden age’ for Malala to return to in Pakistan (Independent)

The message is simple: everything Malala has learned is wrong, writes Peter Popham. 

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

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.