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Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Scotland’s independence referendum could be a dry run for a Euro In/Out vote in 2017 (Daily Telegraph)

The arguments being made for the Union could soon be used to defend Brussels, writes Benedict Brogan. 

2. The budget: look out for even more of George Osborne's sham pledges (Guardian)

The chancellor likes to appear committed to shrinking the deficit with cuts – but it's a fraud, just as his budget will be, says Polly Toynbee. 

3. Wolf at the door is the Tories’ best ally (Financial Times)

The cause of deficit-reduction keeps the coalition together and makes Labour look feckless, says Janan Ganesh. 

4. It’s the great Lib Dem-Tory economic love-in (Times)

If there had only been only one party in power, there would have been more differences than in the present coalition, says Rachel Sylvester. 

5. Politicians have stopped teaching. We can’t be surprised that voters are not enthused (Independent)

Tony Benn’s nerve-shredding impact on Labour has led to an extreme outbreak of caution when modern politicians speak, writes Steve Richards. 

6. George Osborne's budget will be for the privileged few (Guardian)

The chancellor's policies will increase inequality – which is not only socially unjust but bad for our economy, writes Ed Miliband. 

7. Sanctions won't scare the Bear (Daily Mail)

The smart Russian money will be well out of the reach of the western powers, writes Alex Brummer. 

8. Is George Osborne really a Conservative at all? (Times)

The Chancellor is no high priest of austerity, writes Ed Conway. Other countries are cutting more than Britain.

9. Economy: growing pains (Guardian)

The failure of the economic recovery to translate into a political resurgence for the Conservatives is striking, notes a Guardian editorial. 

10. History textbooks can start wars (Financial Times)

The imposition of an authorised version of events turns education into brainwashing, writes Gideon Rachman. 

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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