Net migration into the United Kingdom rose to 318,000 in 2014, the highest total in a decade, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has said. Migration rose by 109,000 on 2013, with total immigration approaching the record high of 2005. Immigration from both inside and outside of Europe was seen to increase. A rise in non-EU immigration will damage Prime Minister David Cameron’s plans to quickly reduce immigration by renegotiating freedom of movement laws with Europe. The news comes as the Prime Minister announces a new bill to crack down on illegal working and reduce immigration into the UK. The bill, to be included in the Queen’s speech on Monday, would allow police to seize the wages of anyone working unlawfully in Britain. Employers currently face fines of up to £20,000 for employing illegal immigrants. The Conservative government faces criticism for the increased immigration figures, having previously promised to significantly reduce net immigration to below 100,000.
Islamic extremist group the Islamic State (IS) has seized control of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, and now controls half of Syria. Observers fear that the city’s ancient ruins could be destroyed by militants, with IS known to have previously destroyed historical sites that pre-date Islam. Having begun a massacre of the Shaitat tribe, a group that had resisted IS attacks, IS now holds unopposed access to the ruins and nearby town. Victory in Palmyra also brings IS closer to Damascus and Homs, strongholds of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Controlling Palmyra also cuts off a government supply line to the contested city of Deir al-Zour. The region also borders oil and gas fields used by the Syrian government. The rapid retreat of government forces from Palmyra has also surprised observers, and raises questions over the strength of forces still loyal to the government in the face of IS.
Chinese firm Hanergy Group has sought to reassure investors after the share value of a subsidiary company, Hanergy Thin Film Power, plummeted by nearly 50 percent on Wednesday. Trading of the shares in the company was suspended after prices fell by 47 percent in 24 minutes, wiping out £11.9 billion from the company’s market capitalisation. Hanergy Group has said it has not sold any of its shares in the firm. Some sources have reported that Hanergy Thin Film Power is now under investigation by Hong Kong’s market watchdog after the incident. Hanergy has so far not addressed reports of any investigation. Volatility on the Hong Kong stock exchange has increased since the creation of a link-up with Shanghai that has seen massive inflows from China.
A range of stories appear in the headlines today. The Financial Times leads with news that six banks have been “fined $5.6bn over rigging of forex markets”. The bankers, who worked for banks including RBS and Barclays, “colluded in online chat rooms” to rig foreign exchange markets, the paper reports. The Daily Telegraph reports that illegal migrants’ pay will be “seized”, in a government crackdown on illegal immigrant workers. The Prime Minister has promised “deportation without appeal and penalties for firms that recruit abroad without first advertising in Britain”, the paper writes. The Times leads with news that a suspected Islamic State terrorist wanted for an attack on a museum in Tunisia in March was “smuggled to Europe” and has been arrested. The suspect, Abdelmajid Touil, is being “held in Milan”. The Independent leads with news that pro-European groups in favour of a “Yes” vote in a European membership referendum have united “to fight ‘No’ camp”. The merger of three groups has given the “Yes” side an “early advantage”, the paper writes. Eurosceptics, meanwhile, are “divided over role for [UK Independence Party Leader Nigel] Farage” in the campaign, with some asking him to play a less prominent role in campaigning. The Guardian leads with the headline “Osborne: let the cuts begin”, as the government prepares new austerity measures. The axe will fall on the budgets of the “Home Office, Justice and Transport” departments, the paper reports, as the government seeks £13 billion of savings.
British Media on China
On the South China Sea: the South China Sea was again a topic of interest for the UK media, after China warned a US Navy spy plane flying in the region. A US TV crew had been present on the spy plane. Both The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian report the incident as an escalation of tensions. The Daily Telegraph notes that the incident “comes days after Beijing warned Washington that its determination to defend its territory was ‘unshakeable’”. The paper describes the event as “the latest US attempt to ratchet up the pressure on Beijing by emphasising the scale of its military build up” in the region. The Guardian reports that the US “said it was considering military patrols in the region”.