Newspaper headlines: Immigration plan 'backlash' and flooding crisis

Several fruit pickers bending over
Image caption UK strawberry picking is largely done by seasonal migrant workers

Priti Patel's proposals for the UK's immigration system feature widely in Thursday's newspapers.

The Financial Times thinks the new policy is a gamble. It says the new rules assume that if businesses cannot hire low-paid migrants, they will invest in training, automation and recruitment to improve workers' productivity.

However, companies could also shut up shop and relocate abroad, it warns, leaving consumers with high prices and less choice.

Most concern is focused on the care sector. In the view of the i newspaper, there appears to be no plan to mitigate the impact on social care, already in a dire state.

It points out that hourly pay across the sector is lower than in almost every supermarket chain - far short of the threshold to qualify for coming to the UK.

For some, the changes are primarily political, not economic.

The Guardian's Martin Kettle writes that the governing approach is to impress the voting public rather than to solve the labour market issues.

The practical side takes second place to the message, he believes.

For Matthew Lynn in the Daily Telegraph, there is no point in denying that Ms Patel's measures will be hard on some businesses.

But, he argues, curbing low-skilled immigration can change the economy for the better because it will bring about higher productivity and higher wage industries.

For far too long, the Times says, businesses have expanded on the basis of cheap labour made available by EU membership.

That has diverted them from vital long-term investment in training and automated production, with the result that Britain has a chronic productivity problem, the paper adds.

Ms Patel is the subject of the main story in the Times - but for a different reason.

It reports that she has attempted to oust her most senior civil servant after a clash at the top of the Home Office.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption There have been no formal complaints against Ms Patel, the Home Office says

According to the paper, multiple sources inside the department have accused the home secretary of bullying and creating an "atmosphere of fear".

A Home Office spokesman tells the paper there have been no formal complaints against Ms Patel and it takes the welfare of staff extremely seriously.

The paper adds that her allies have rejected the claims of bullying, saying that while she was a demanding boss, she had never been unreasonable.

Flooding

For its lead, the Guardian says official figures reveal that one in ten of all new homes in England since 2013 have been built on land at the highest risk of flooding.

The number of properties built in these high-risk areas annually has more than doubled in recent years, it adds.

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Flooding continues to impact areas of England and Wales

The flooding makes the lead for the Daily Mirror. It has a picture of a man wading into floodwater in Monmouth to rescue a freezing woman trapped in her submerged car.

But the paper says that while the rescuer risked his own life, Boris Johnson has come under fire for failing to visit flood areas.

Budget

According to the Sun, motorists are to be targeted in next month's Budget, with the first rise in fuel duty in a decade.

It quotes Treasury sources as saying the prime minister's chief aide, Dominic Cummings, wants to end the freeze on fuel duty to fund the government's promised spending on infrastructure outside London.

But the paper's leader column warns that "whacking voters with a whopping great tax for the privilege of taking their children to school won't make [Boris Johnson] any friends".

The Daily Mail's leader column is aghast at another Budget proposal for a £10bn pensions raid by axing higher rate tax relief on retirement pots.

It describes the plan as "unbridled madness" and "daylight robbery".

Paring back pension tax breaks would send a dangerous message, it warns: save for old age, and the Treasury will plunder it.

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Meanwhile, there is anger at the EU's apparent reluctance to give Britain a similar trade deal to that of Canada unless it follows rules set by Brussels.

The Daily Telegraph accuses the EU of acting in bad faith and says no self-respecting independent nation of the UK's size and clout would accept such a demand.

In the Mail's view, the EU is playing "pathetic games" and if it will not negotiate seriously, Britain will walk away.

The top story for the Daily Mail is on official figures showing that house prices have risen in every UK region for the first time in almost two years.

The paper puts this down to what it calls the "Boris bounce" - the general election victory that ended much of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption On Wednesday, it emerged Prince Harry and Meghan's royal duties would end on 31 March

The announcement by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex about the arrangements for their future are widely reported.

The Mail says one omission was whether they will continue to enjoy protection from Scotland Yard bodyguards once they step down.

The Sun focuses on the closure of the couple's office - with the headline: "Changing the locks at Buckingham Palace".

Finally the Times reports that the High Street is bracing itself for shortages of goods because of the coronavirus outbreak.

It says stores selling everything from clothes to furniture could be affected in the coming weeks as factory closures persist across China - with some analysts raising the prospect of gaps on shelves.

The Mail says handbag and garment manufacturers are running short of zips because China is the world's biggest producer.

And with Chinese factories supplying many wedding dresses, brides-to-be are advised to order extra early.