Morning call: pick of the papers

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

1. Bobbing Obama leaves Putin holding the Syrian powder keg (Sunday Times) (£)

Obama achieved far more by the threat of force, than by using force, writes Andrew Sullivan.

2. The question that the Lib Dems are desperate not to answer (Observer)

The party is split in so many ways over whether it would prefer to govern with Labour or the Tories, writes Andrew Rawnsley.

3. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have put Russia back on the top table (Independent on Sunday)

World View: Deal in Geneva shows the Kremlin’s influence is at its greatest for more than 20 years, writes Patrick Cockburn.

4. The Lib Dems know their future lies in power-sharing (Sunday Telegraph)

One of Nick Clegg’s greatest strengths is his ability to think strategically. Thanks to him, no one can now claim that coalition governments are a recipe for disaster, writes Matthew D'Ancona.

5. Yarl's Wood affair is a symptom, not the disease (Observer)

Increasing numbers of vulnerable people are being denied redress under our criminal justice system, writes Nick Cohen.

6. Miliband should stop, wait and let the coalition fail (FT) (£)

The Labour leader should keep his head down and his party united, according to Robert Ford.

7. Two-state illusion (IHT)

The idea of a state for Palestinians and one for Israelis is a fantasy that blinds us, writes Ian S Lustick.

8. Clegg looks doomed but the cavalry are coming (Sunday Times) (£)

If Clegg can stay standing, the polls indicate his party are due a recovery, writes Adam Boulton. 

9. My veil epiphany (Observer)

Just what was Birmingham Met thinking of when it tried to stop women wearing the niqab? asks Victoria Coren.

10. Tina Brown leaves journalism in her wake (FT) (£)

The media’s most irrepressible trend-surfer was the editor who was always bigger than her cover stories, by John Gapper.

Cock-a-doodle-doo: the ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.
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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.