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News, gossip and insight from PoliticsHome Editor Paul Waugh

The quiet Lib Dem wins continue

Tomorrow will rightly belong to George Osborne.

But today we've seen two quiet Lib Dem 'wins' over policy that underline just why the Lib Dems are in this Coalition.

First, on student visas Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have won a significant battle to overturn Tory plans for a cap on numbers.

The Lib Dem case was bolstered by universities - and businesses - arguing forcefully that it was economically bonkers to curb the £5bn/year income from international students.

As is now commonplace, this battle was largely fought out behind closed doors in Cabinet Sub-Committees, with some wins for Theresa May some days and wins for Cable and Clegg on others. The key argument was that a cap would undermine the Budget's key message of growth.

Of course, the Home Office has been allowed to save face with a rider that reserves the right to look again at a cap later. But the Lib Dems say that all of the spin this morning about numbers of students being slashed by 80,000 or 100,000 was "arbitrary" and based on dubious projections.

A senior Liberal Democrat source said: "Nick and Vince were absolutely adamant about this. The last thing we need to be doing when we are encouraging growth is to pull the rug out from under the feet of our great universities.

“We’ve got to get away from an obsession with numbers. Yes loopholes can and will be closed but Nick was very clear that we shouldn’t have a Dutch auction at the expense of one of the most vibrant and thriving sectors of the British economy.

“The draconian restrictions originally planned by the Home Office would have been a slap in the face for British colleges, universities and businesses. This is a victory for reason over prejudice.”

The second win today won't garner as many headlines or debates in the Dog n Duck, but it is significant nonetheless. The Home Office's decision to agree that the UK should opt-in to the EU directive on human trafficking is another Lib Dem policy box ticked.

The PM, the Home Sec and - yes, Nick Clegg - all defended the opt-out of the directive in the past year in the Commons. I'm told that Clegg merely went along with the Government line in public but was fully on board in private to get the change. The PM was not strongly of an opinion either way.

This isn't just a Lib Dem issue, and former Tory MP Sir Anthony Steen has been pushing for it for a long time. But the Libs feel it's another triumph for common sense and that a Tory Government on its own would still be caving to its Eurosceptic wing simply because the Directive comes from Brussels.

Then again, timing is everything. It may have helped that only last week we saw someone convicted for the very first time for the offence of human trafficking in the UK.

 

 

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