Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. HS2 must terminate here. All change, please (Times)

I can no longer back high-speed rail, writes Alistair Darling. There are better ways to spend £50bn than on one line.

2. Ed, don’t listen to the advice – shouting louder won’t help you (Independent)

Miliband is not currently in a strong enough position to spell out his plans, says Steve Richards.

3. The financial crisis that refuses to go away (Daily Telegraph)

Emerging markets such as Brazil, India and Turkey have an outbreak of the jitters, and it’s hard to see a happy outcome, writes Jeremy Warner.

4. It's right to worry about security, but sometimes data trawls can be useful (Guardian)

For once the government has got something right – the NHS's electronic surveys could be more effective than randomised control trials, says Polly Toynbee.

5. India needs fixing – financially and morally (Independent)

The country's most famous economists, Amartya Sen and Jagdish Bhagwati, have different solutions, writes Peter Popham. But both ignore one key problem.

6. Will people really stay married for £150 a year? (Times)

If Conservatives are serious about protecting the family it would make more sense to tighten up divorce laws, says Philip Collins. 

7. Why Ed Miliband will be Britain's next prime minister (Guardian)

The Labour leader understands the nature of the UK's economic problems, write John Denham and Peter Hain. With the support of his colleagues, he will win in 2015.

8. Wilberforce’s heirs are ready to tackle the great evil of the age (Daily Telegraph)

Britain helped stamp out slavery once – now Theresa May is trying to do the same again, says Fraser Nelson.

9.  Syria: chemical weapons with impunity (Guardian)

The options for response are all bad, and it is doubtful whether airstrikes would establish deterrence, says a Guardian editorial.

10. Productivity is not everything (Financial Times)

There is nothing wrong with the US economy a measure of redistribution would not put right, writes Samuel Brittan.

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Why Theresa May won't exclude students from the net migration target

The Prime Minister believes the public would view the move as "a fix". 

In a letter to David Cameron shortly after the last general election, Philip Hammond demanded that students be excluded from the net migration target. The then foreign secretary, who was backed by George Osborne and Sajid Javid, wrote: "From a foreign policy point of view, Britain's role as a world class destination for international students is a highly significant element of our soft power offer. It's an issue that's consistently raised with me by our foreign counterparts." Universities and businesses have long argued that it is economically harmful to limit student numbers. But David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, refused to relent. 

Appearing before the Treasury select committee yesterday, Hammond reignited the issue. "As we approach the challenge of getting net migration figures down, it is in my view essential that we look at how we do this in a way that protects the vital interests of our economy," he said. He added that "It's not whether politicians think one thing or another, it's what the public believe and I think it would be useful to explore that quesrtion." A YouGov poll published earlier this year found that 57 per cent of the public support excluding students from the "tens of thousands" target.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has also pressured May to do so. But the Prime Minister not only rejected the proposal - she demanded a stricter regime. Rudd later announced in her conference speech that there would be "tougher rules for students on lower quality courses". 

The economic case for reform is that students aid growth. The political case is that it would make the net migration target (which has been missed for six years) easier to meet (long-term immigration for study was 164,000 in the most recent period). But in May's view, excluding students from the target would be regarded by the public as a "fix" and would harm the drive to reduce numbers. If an exemption is made for one group, others will inevitably demand similar treatment. 

Universities complain that their lobbying power has been reduced by the decision to transfer ministerial responsibility from the business department to education. Bill Rammell, the former higher education minister and the vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire, said in July: “We shouldn’t assume that Theresa May as prime minister will have the same restrictive view on overseas students that Theresa May the home secretary had”. Some Tory MPs hoped that the net migration target would be abolished altogether in a "Nixon goes to China" moment.

But rather than retreating, May has doubled-down. The Prime Minister regards permanently reduced migration as essential to her vision of a more ordered society. She believes the economic benefits of high immigration are both too negligible and too narrow. 

Her ambition is a forbidding one. Net migration has not been in the "tens of thousands" since 1997: when the EU had just 15 member states and the term "BRICS" had not even been coined. But as prime minister, May is determined to achieve what she could not as home secretary. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.