Morning Call: pick of the comment

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers

1. Cuts and tax divide Labour, but could sink the Tories too (Guardian)

Martin Kettle says the election could really open up if voters fear George Osborne is planning cuts of anything like £75bn a year.

2. Can Apple's Jesus Tablet deliver a miracle? (Times)

Antonia Senior says that publishers struggling to find new sources of revenue view Apple's tablet computer as a potential saviour.

3. Only the US has muscle to make banks behave (Independent)

James Moore praises Barack Obama's plan to break up the banks and says that a US president alone has the tools to haul them into line.

4. Cross of Goldman (Times)

But a leader in the Times argues that Obama's plan will contribute little to financial stability and will also make it more difficult for banks to turn a profit.

5. The age of the killer robot is no longer a sci-fi fantasy (Independent)

Johann Hari warns of the rise of military robots, with the US now using 12,000 as part of its force.

6. The prince charms us, but he hasn't moved us (Times)

The former Australian Liberal Party leader Malcolm Turnbull says that Prince William may have received a warm welcome to Sydney, but the desire for a republic remains.

7. Death by chocolate (Guardian)

Andrew Martin says that the sale of Cadbury to Kraft marks the regrettable death of the Quaker model of capitalism.

8. Flaky thinking from those who scream foul over Cadbury (Daily Telegraph)

But Jeff Randall argues that the outcry over the US takeover is driven by crude political imperatives.

9. Don't be surprised if a protest movement flowers in Britain (Independent)

Andreas Whittam Smith predicts that hostility towards the political class could lead to the creation of a new protest party in Britain.

10. We can turn Haiti around (Guardian)

Kofi Annan says the lesson to learn from the Haitian tragedy is that fragile states require concerted and sustained support.

 

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Something is missing from the Brexit debate

Inside Westminster, few seem to have noticed or care about the biggest question mark in the Brexit talks. 

What do we know about the government’s Brexit strategy that we didn’t before? Not much, to be honest.

Theresa May has now said explicitly what her red lines on European law and free movement of labour said implicitly: that Britain is leaving the single market. She hasn’t ruled out continuing payments from Britain to Brussels, but she has said that they won’t be “vast”. (Much of the detail of Britain’s final arrangement is going to depend on what exactly “vast” means.)  We know that security co-operation will, as expected, continue after Brexit.

What is new? It’s Theresa May’s threat to the EU27 that Britain will walk away from a bad deal and exit without one that dominates the British newspapers.

“It's May Way or the Highway” quips City AM“No deal is better than a bad deal” is the Telegraph’s splash, “Give us a deal… or we walk” is the Mirror’s. The Guardian opts for “May’s Brexit threat to Europe”,  and “May to EU: give us fair deal or you’ll be crushed” is the Times’ splash.

The Mail decides to turn the jingoism up to 11 with “Steel of the new Iron Lady” and a cartoon of Theresa May on the white cliffs of Dover stamping on an EU flag. No, really.  The FT goes for the more sedate approach: “May eases Brexit fears but warns UK will walk away from 'bad deal’” is their splash.

There’s a lot to unpack here. The government is coming under fire for David Davis’ remark that even if Parliament rejects the Brexit deal, we will leave anyway. But as far as the Article 50 process is concerned, that is how it works. You either take the deal that emerges from the Article 50 process or have a disorderly exit. There is no process within exiting the European Union for a do-over.  

The government’s threat to Brussels makes sense from a negotiating perspective. It helps the United Kingdom get a better deal if the EU is convinced that the government is willing to suffer damage if the deal isn’t to its liking. But the risk is that the damage is seen as so asymmetric – and while the direct risk for the EU27 is bad, the knock-on effects for the UK are worse – that the threat looks like a bad bluff. Although European leaders have welcomed the greater clarity, Michel Barnier, the lead negotiator, has reiterated that their order of priority is to settle the terms of divorce first, agree a transition and move to a wider deal after that, rather than the trade deal with a phased transition that May favours.

That the frontpage of the Irish edition of the Daily Mail says “May is wrong, any deal is better than no deal” should give you an idea of how far the “do what I want or I shoot myself” approach is going to take the UK with the EU27. Even a centre-right newspaper in Britain's closest ally isn't buying that Britain will really walk away from a bad deal. 

Speaking of the Irish papers, there’s a big element to yesterday’s speech that has eluded the British ones: May’s de facto abandonment of the customs union and what that means for the border between the North and the South. “May’s speech indicates Border customs controls likely to return” is the Irish Times’ splash, “Brexit open border plan “an illusion”” is the Irish Independent’s, while “Fears for jobs as ‘hard Brexit’ looms” is the Irish Examiner’s.

There is widespread agreement in Westminster, on both sides of the Irish border and in the European Union that no-one wants a return to the borders of the past. The appetite to find a solution is high on all sides. But as one diplomat reflected to me recently, just because everyone wants to find a solution, doesn’t mean there is one to be found. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.