Mrs May walks into a non-story and gets her migration sums wrong…

THEY say walking is good for you, but it doesn’t seem to do much for Theresa May. She returned from a walking break in Snowdon with the idea to hold a snap general election to increase her majority – “Oh, look Philip – there’s a landslide. It must be an omen.”

We all know how well that turned out.

The prime minister is just back from another walking holiday – three weeks in Switzerland this time. She hasn’t called an election on this occasion. No, all that Swiss air has merely left her carrying on just as she did before, saying something stupid about the latest national nonsense controversy – and refusing to admit that she was wrong about foreign students.

Her first act was to wade into the giant non-story that is Big Ben falling silent for four years so that vital maintenance work can be carried out.

Mrs May has plenty on her tin walking plate already: the slow-motion car crash that is Brexit and Donald Trump fomenting racial tension in the US and making threatening noises towards North Korea are just two items to be found there, next to a half-eaten apple.

Instead she joins the entirely bogus fuss about a large bell. She said that it “can’t be right for Big Ben to be silent for four years” and has asked Speaker John Bercow to investigate urgently so that “we can continue to hear Big Ben through those years”.

It’s a big clock, no big deal – and that bell makes a lovely sound, for sure, but sometimes the issues we are expected to be agitated about really aren’t worth the hot air. Not only that, it’s almost as if such non-stories are put up there so we don’t notice anything else that’s going on.

It has been pointed out in various social media posts doing the rounds that MPs seem to be more exercised over the tower containing Big Ben than Grenfell Tower in which so many people died. It’s probably an unfair comparison, but still you can see their point. Sometimes we just prefer a big fuss about nothing rather than truly facing up to something that should shame us to our core.

As for foreign students, new figures suggest that Theresa May’s long-held belief that foreign students overstay their visas is just not true. She was obsessed with this as Home Secretary, and carried the obsession with her into 10 Downing Street.

The ‘fact’ of foreign students ‘flooding’ into the country was taken as a totem of bad migration – and she made life much more difficult for these students in the name of cutting the numbers.

The Home Office previously reckoned there were 100,000 students a year staying on illegally, but now new data from the Office of National Statistics puts that figure at only 4,600. Pretty much a non-problem – and another non-story, although one with a serrated edge.

Lib Dem leader Vince Cable, who was part of the coalition under David Cameron, says he spent five years telling the Home Office that their figures were bogus – “But they persisted nonetheless on the basis of those phoney numbers.”

The new figures suggest that 97 per cent of foreign students leave after finishing their studies – a percentage that makes Theresa May look plain stupid, as well as narrow-minded and wrong-headed. Perhaps she should go on another walk.

Much was wrapped up in those bogus statistics, not least the anti-immigrant undertone to the Brexit vote.

The new data also reveals that net migration is falling, partly because of a rise in EU workers leaving our sinking ship. This is only good news if you are the editor of the Daily Express – “MIGRATION SLOWS AFTER EU EXIT VOTE.”

Plenty of other things have slowed too, including common sense; what has increased exponentially is a general sense of us not having a clue about what we are doing or where we are heading.

The fuss about foreign students – coming over here and spending their money at our universities – is in line with other fears about migration. In 2016 Ipsos Mori found that voters believed that 15 per cent of the population were immigrants, with Leavers putting the figure at 20 per cent and remain voters guessing 10 per cent. The official figure at the time was closer to five per cent – suggesting once again that fears about migration are mostly prejudice wrapped in a toxic cloud.


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