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Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Why Europe threatens Britain’s recovery (Daily Telegraph)

Our neighbours need to grow if we are to achieve our goal of a balanced economy, writes Jeremy Warner. 

2. No poll jitters: Axelrod can help Labour hit back, and hard (Guardian)

Ed Miliband may envy David Cameron's ratings, but his policies will be popular with voters, says Polly Toynbee. They just don't know it yet.

3. The Tories said coalition wouldn’t work - and they were dead right (Daily Telegraph)

Government by No 10’s select Quad has been an experiment that doesn’t bear repeating, says Fraser Nelson.

4. General election debates: blazing an online trail (Guardian)

It is not acceptable for there to be any doubt about the possibility of leaders' debates in the 2015 election, says a Guardian editorial. The public now expects them.

5. Europeans shake their fists at the world (Financial Times)

The populist trick has been to channel wider discontents into antipathy to the EU, writes Philip Stephens. 

6. Why Singh outranks Thatcher and Reagan (Times)

India’s prime minister is about to be roundly defeated, but the world’s largest democracy owes him a colossal debt, says Philip Collins. 

7. Renewable energy won't rid us of the horrors of coal (Guardian)

The Turkish disaster has brought home the grave costs of mining, writes Simon Jenkins. But hysteria-led policies will only make matters.

8. Border crossing (Daily Telegraph)

As Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron is right to visit Scotland to persuade it to stay in the Union, says a Telegraph editorial.

9. Now at last Lib Dem ministers can say what they really think of their Tory bosses (Independent)

The end is approaching for the coalition's marriage of convenience, writes Nigel Morris. 

10. China must do as Japan says not as it did (Financial Times)

Beijing, like Tokyo in the 1980s, is trying to transform a state-controlled financial system, writes Gillian Tett. 

Paul McMillan
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"We're an easy target": how a Tory manifesto pledge will tear families apart

Under current rules, bringing your foreign spouse to the UK is a luxury reserved for those earning £18,600 a year or more. The Tories want to make it even more exclusive. 

Carolyn Matthew met her partner, George, in South Africa sixteen years ago. She settled down with him, had kids, and lived like a normal family until last year, when they made the fateful decision to move to her hometown in Scotland. Matthew, 55, had elderly parents, and after 30 years away from home she wanted to be close to them. 

But Carolyn nor George - despite consulting a South African immigration lawyer – did not anticipate one huge stumbling block. That is the rule, introduced in 2012, that a British citizen must earn £18,600 a year before a foreign spouse may join them in the UK. 

“It is very dispiriting,” Carolyn said to me on the telephone from Bo’ness, a small town on the Firth of Forth, near Falkirk. “In two weeks, George has got to go back to South Africa.” Carolyn, who worked in corporate complaints, has struggled to find the same kind of work in her hometown. Jobs at the biggest local employer tend to be minimum wage. George, on the other hand, is an engineer – yet cannot work because of his holiday visa. 

To its critics, the minimum income threshold seems nonsensical. It splits up families – including children from parents – and discriminates against those likely to earn lower wages, such as women, ethnic minorities and anyone living outside London and the South East. The Migration Observatory has calculated that roughly half Britain’s working population would not meet the requirement. 

Yet the Conservative party not only wishes to maintain the policy, but hike the threshold. The manifesto stated:  “We will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas.” 

Initially, the threshold was justified as a means of preventing foreign spouses from relying on the state. But tellingly, the Tory manifesto pledge comes under the heading of “Controlling Immigration”. 

Carolyn points out that because George cannot work while he is visiting her, she must support the two of them for months at a time without turning to state aid. “I don’t claim benefits,” she told me. “That is the last thing I want to do.” If both of them could work “life would be easy”. She believes that if the minimum income threshold is raised any further "it is going to make it a nightmare for everyone".

Stuart McDonald, the SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, co-sponsored a Westminster Hall debate on the subject earlier this year. While the Tory manifesto pledge is vague, McDonald warns that one option is the highest income threshold suggested in 2012 - £25,700, or more than the median yearly wage in the East Midlands. 

He described the current scheme as “just about the most draconian family visa rules in the world”, and believes a hike could affect more than half of British citizens. 

"Theresa May is forcing people to choose between their families and their homes in the UK - a choice which most people will think utterly unfair and unacceptable,” he said.  

For those a pay rise away from the current threshold, a hike will be demoralising. For Paul McMillan, 25, it is a sign that it’s time to emigrate.

McMillan, a graduate, met his American girlfriend Megan while travelling in 2012 (the couple are pictured above). He could find a job that will allow him to meet the minimum income threshold – if he were not now studying for a medical degree.  Like Matthew, McMillan’s partner has no intention of claiming benefits – in fact, he expects her visa would specifically ban her from doing so. 

Fed up with the hostile attitude to immigrants, and confident of his options elsewhere, McMillan is already planning a career abroad. “I am going to take off in four years,” he told me. 

As for why the Tories want to raise the minimum income threshold, he thinks it’s obvious – to force down immigration numbers. “None of this is about the amount of money we need to earn,” he said. “We’re an easy target for the government.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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