Morning Call: pick of the comment

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

1. If the Tories have a secret plan for power, they're keeping it quiet (Daily Telegraph)

Despite their boasts about being prepared for government, says Benedict Brogan, there are some anxious faces in the party's high command.

2. The fault line in Haiti runs straight to France (Times)

Ben Macintyre says that the destruction by the earthquake has been aggravated, not by a pact with the devil, but by the crippling legacy of imperialism. He looks back at Haiti's colonised history.

3. If Britain wants change that counts, there's an election it can vote in today (Guardian)

Timothy Garton Ash says that ideological differences between the parties are hugely exaggerated. What matters most is to transform the system. He writes about political reform and the Power 2010 campaign.

4. We have learnt the wrong lessons from Iraq (Financial Times)

Fresh from his appearance at the Chilcot inquiry, Alastair Campbell says that the government must improve strategic communication, as winning the war in Afghanistan requires maintaining public support.

5. This is a terrible reverse, but don't write off Obama (Independent)

There is discontent about the US economy, says Matthew Norman, but it is expected to improve dramatically by 2012, and Barack Obama foresaw this backlash before his election.

6. Lessons of a Mass revolt (Guardian)

Harold Evans agrees that although many voters oppose health reform, Obama's rejection in Massachusetts is mainly because millions are still out of work.

7. Bank of England independence is a cause of immense frustration for Gordon Brown (Daily Telegraph)

Mervyn King's latest criticism of the handling of the recession was a body blow to the PM, says Edmund Conway.

8. Family values have the Tories in a twist (Independent)

A mighty roar calls for our governments to praise the family. Steve Richards doesn't see how or why they should -- it is time for a debate about the limits and scope of government.

9. Review the sell-off of great British companies (Financial Times)

Will Hutton and Phillip Blond question the dominant logic of the past 30 years that mergers are good for the companies involved, for the economy and for consumers, and they call for British assets to be protected.

10. Memo to medics: it's about emotions as well as tumours (Guardian)

Zoe Williams looks at the latest disagreement among breast cancer experts, which shines a light into the grey areas of the NHS's screening programme.

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Theresa May’s Brexit speech is Angela Merkel’s victory – here’s why

The Germans coined the word “merkeln to describe their Chancellor’s approach to negotiations. 

It is a measure of Britain’s weak position that Theresa May accepts Angela Merkel’s ultimatum even before the Brexit negotiations have formally started

The British Prime Minister blinked first when she presented her plan for Brexit Tuesday morning. After months of repeating the tautological mantra that “Brexit means Brexit”, she finally specified her position when she essentially proposed that Britain should leave the internal market for goods, services and people, which had been so championed by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. 

By accepting that the “UK will be outside” and that there can be “no half-way house”, Theresa May has essentially caved in before the negotiations have begun.

At her meeting with May in July last year, the German Chancellor stated her ultimatum that there could be no “Rosinenpickerei” – the German equivalent of cherry picking. Merkel stated that Britain was not free to choose. That is still her position.

Back then, May was still battling for access to the internal market. It is a measure of how much her position has weakened that the Prime Minister has been forced to accept that Britain will have to leave the single market.

For those who have followed Merkel in her eleven years as German Kanzlerin there is sense of déjà vu about all this.  In negotiations over the Greek debt in 2011 and in 2015, as well as in her negotiations with German banks, in the wake of the global clash in 2008, Merkel played a waiting game; she let others reveal their hands first. The Germans even coined the word "merkeln", to describe the Chancellor’s favoured approach to negotiations.

Unlike other politicians, Frau Merkel is known for her careful analysis, behind-the-scene diplomacy and her determination to pursue German interests. All these are evident in the Brexit negotiations even before they have started.

Much has been made of US President-Elect Donald Trump’s offer to do a trade deal with Britain “very quickly” (as well as bad-mouthing Merkel). In the greater scheme of things, such a deal – should it come – will amount to very little. The UK’s exports to the EU were valued at £223.3bn in 2015 – roughly five times as much as our exports to the United States. 

But more importantly, Britain’s main export is services. It constitutes 79 per cent of the economy, according to the Office of National Statistics. Without access to the single market for services, and without free movement of skilled workers, the financial sector will have a strong incentive to move to the European mainland.

This is Germany’s gain. There is a general consensus that many banks are ready to move if Britain quits the single market, and Frankfurt is an obvious destination.

In an election year, this is welcome news for Merkel. That the British Prime Minister voluntarily gives up the access to the internal market is a boon for the German Chancellor and solves several of her problems. 

May’s acceptance that Britain will not be in the single market shows that no country is able to secure a better deal outside the EU. This will deter other countries from following the UK’s example. 

Moreover, securing a deal that will make Frankfurt the financial centre in Europe will give Merkel a political boost, and will take focus away from other issues such as immigration.

Despite the rise of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party, the largely proportional electoral system in Germany will all but guarantee that the current coalition government continues after the elections to the Bundestag in September.

Before the referendum in June last year, Brexiteers published a poster with the mildly xenophobic message "Halt ze German advance". By essentially caving in to Merkel’s demands before these have been expressly stated, Mrs May will strengthen Germany at Britain’s expense. 

Perhaps, the German word schadenfreude comes to mind?

Matthew Qvortrup is author of the book Angela Merkel: Europe’s Most Influential Leader published by Duckworth, and professor of applied political science at Coventry University.