Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The US has little credibility left: Syria won't change that (Guardian)

Obama's argument for intervention is a hollow one: America's use of chemical weapons in Falluja makes that clear, writes Gary Younge.

2. Revamping Labour's union ties could help Ed Miliband (Independent)

Some activists see Blairite diehards trying to ‘break the link’ – but this is at best paranoid, says Rob Marchant. 

3. Milisecond (n): the time it takes Ed to do the unions’ bidding (Daily Telegraph)

The Falkirk debacle shows Labour is still in hock to Unite – and that’s bad for all of us, writes Boris Johnson.

4. Abbott and the BoreCons show how to win (Times)

The new Australian PM is no fire-breathing ideologue, writes Tim Montgomerie. Like Angela Merkel, he is not afraid to be dull.

5. People despise politicians – but whose fault is that? (Guardian)

I've played my own part in giving MPs a bad name, but ultimately it's Rupert Murdoch's media machine that corrodes public trust, says Chris Huhne.

6. Only a new wave of socialism can end the great squeeze on us all (Independent)

We must break with the free market consensus established by Thatcher, says Owen Jones.

7. A trap of the president’s making (Financial Times)

Obama’s characteristic caution has put him in a perilous position, says Edward Luce.

8. What will drive growth? This recovery could turn out to be a flash in the pan (Independent)

It is now 66 months since the start of the recession and GDP is still 2.9 per cent down, writes David Blanchflower. 

9. The Labour party must get ready for the next generation (Guardian)

To be relevant in the digital age, the Labour party must be more pluralist and retain its trade union links, says Tom Watson.

10. China will stay the course on growth (Financial Times)

Asian countries have enhanced their capabilities to fend off risks, writes Li Keqiang.

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The Brexit effect: The fall in EU migration spells trouble for the UK

The 84,000 fall in net migration to 248,000 will harm an economy that is dependent on immigration.

The UK may not have left the EU yet but Europeans are already leaving it. New figures from the ONS show that 117,000 EU citizens emigrated in 2016 (up 31,000 from 2015) - the highest level for six years. The exodus was most marked among eastern Europeans, with a fall in immigration from the EU8 countries to 48,000 (down 25,000) and a rise in emigration to 43,000 (up 16,000).

As a result, net migration has fallen to 248,000 (down 84,000), the lowest level since 2014. That's still nearly more than double the Conservatives' target of "tens of thousands a year" (reaffirmed in their election manifesto) but the trend is unmistakable. The number of international students, who Theresa May has refused to exclude from the target (despite cabinet pleas), fell by 32,000 to 136,000. And all this before the government has imposed new controls on free movement.

The causes of the UK's unattractiveness are not hard to discern. The pound’s depreciation (which makes British wages less competitive), the spectre of Brexit (May has refused to guarantee EU citizens the right to remain) and a rise in hate crimes and xenophobia are likely to be the main deterrents. Ministers may publicly welcome 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.

Brexit has in fact forced ministers to increasingly acknowledge an uncomfortable 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. Brexit secretary David Davis, for instance, recently conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall after the UK leaves the EU. "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 (a level not seen since 1997), 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.”

Alongside the new immigration figures, GDP growth in the first quarter of 2017 was revised down to 0.2 per cent - the weakest performance since Q4 2012. In recent history, there has only been one reliable means of reducing net migration: a recession. Newcomers from the EU halved after the 2008 crash. Should the UK suffer the downturn that historic trends predict, it will need immigrants more than ever. Both the government and voters may only miss migrants when they're gone.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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