Newspaper headlines: Net migration figures, Tata pension proposals and doctors' dispute leaks

Figures showing net migration to the UK in 2015 had risen to the second highest level since records began come under scrutiny in Friday's papers.

The i says the data from the Office for National Statistics - recording the difference between the number of people moving to the UK for more than a year and those leaving - propelled the subject to the centre of the EU referendum campaign.

Leave campaigners seized on the figures as evidence that Britain was powerless to limit the numbers, it reports.

The rise, says the Guardian, "provoked an immediate clash" between pro-Brexit campaigners such as Boris Johnson and the immigration minister James Brokenshire.

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The Sun mocks up a photo of David Cameron on its front page with his fingers in his ears, saying the prime minister "turned a deaf ear to the nation's immigration concerns" by refusing to answer questions about the figures at the G7 summit in Japan.

Net migration reached 330,000 last year, with EU citizens accounting for 184,000 of the total. And Downing Street later reiterated the prime minister's case that leaving the EU would hit the economy and provide no definitive answers to concerns over migration.

But for the Daily Mail the figures are a "hammer blow" and leave Mr Cameron's pledge to cut net migration to the tens of thousands in tatters.

The Daily Express says it is a "fantasy" to think migration can be brought down while Britain remains in the EU.

Yet the Financial Times says many leading experts working within Britain's "strained public services" consider the recent wave of immigration has had a big positive impact.

However, as migration moves up the agenda in the run-up to the referendum, "such forthright views are at odds with public opinion and the central argument" of the Leave campaign, says the FT.

In a leading article, the Times says the figures would be regarded as a positive sign in a different political climate and it is a myth to suggest that most jobs taken by immigrants would otherwise be filled by Britons.

While there is pressure on local services, the data "should not be twisted in the debate over Brexit", it adds.

The Daily Mirror says David Cameron's pretence he would limit net migration was a "deceitful political promise that is boomeranging" on him. But it contends that the overwhelming majority of migrants contribute more in taxes than they receive in benefits or cost to the NHS.


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In a different EU-related story on the front pages, the Times claims a policy paper outlining the first steps towards a European army is being kept secret from British voters until after the referendum.

The Ministry of Defence, notes the Times, says it would never be part of an EU army and it reports Britain vetoed similar proposals in 2011.

But a loophole could reportedly allow nine other states to group together in future to develop new military and operational structures.

A source quoted by the Times says the document drawn up by the EU's foreign policy chief has been shrouded in secrecy as "people are scared it could have a negative effect on the British vote".

Other referendum stories include...

Times: Old-timers woo the young in first debate

Financial Times: Pro-Brexit fundraising beating Remainers

The i: Joseph Muscat - Those who say Brexit would lead to a Commonwealth renaissance are profoundly wrong

Daily Telegraph: Peter Lilley - Don't believe the scare stories about trade


'Extraordinary document'

A government consultation on proposals to cut the pension benefits given to steelworkers, in an attempt to make Tata's UK operations more viable to a buyer, attracts concern.

The Daily Mail says there are fears taking away benefits that have already been granted to workers would be set a "dangerous precedent" that could be imitated by firms in other industries.

Pensions consultant John Ralfe is quoted in the Daily Telegraph. He tells the paper proposals to alter a law to allow the changes to be pushed through were contained in the "most extraordinary government document I have ever read".

It "drove a coach and horses through" long standing agreements on retirement schemes, he contends.

Image copyright Reuters

Meanwhile, the Guardian's financial editor Nils Pratley writes: "Viewed in isolation, the idea would be a reasonable fudge... But can such a shuffle really be viewed in isolation?

"Once a government has accepted the principle that obligations can be tweaked, where does the process stop?"

For the Financial Times "pensions policy is too important to be made up as the government goes along. Loosely drafted legislation to help push through the sale of a single company could have damaging, widespread and long-lasting consequences".


Doctors' dispute leaks

Comments contained in a leak of social media correspondence between leading members of the British Medical Association while discussing the recent strike action involving junior doctors in England do not go down well with some papers.

The messages appear to suggest the executive of the BMA junior doctors' committee was considering adopting a hard line strategy to drag out the dispute between the medics and the government over a new contract.

It goes against its public statements and seems the union "acted in bad faith", says the Daily Express.

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In a leading article, the Daily Telegraph says the messages indicate the union "misled both the public and its members" by concealing its motives beneath a cloak of concern for patients.

The Times highlights a message that stated pay was the "red line" in the dispute, and says the union adopted "disingenuous negotiating tactics".

The Daily Mirror notes the BMA played down the conclusions being drawn from the messages, with the union saying the conversations reflected the anger felt by junior doctors but were private discussions and "should not be mistaken for the agreed strategy... which was communicated publicly".


What the commentators say...

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Media captionLiam Halligan, economics commentator for the Daily Telegraph, and the economics editor of the Independent, Ben Chu, join the BBC News Channel to review Friday's front pages

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