Which way will Labour turn on control orders?

Miliband is likely to support the abolition of control orders but will his MPs?

The news that the coalition is set to scrap control orders leaves Labour facing its own policy dilemma. Since his election as leader, Ed Miliband has pledged to remake Labour as a party of civil liberties but has said little on control orders.

The best guide we have to the party's position is Ed Balls's recent interview with Andrew Marr. The shadow home secretary supported the coalition's plan to cut the pre-charge detention period from 28 to 14 days but was noticeably more ambiguous about control orders.

He said:

I think control orders is a tougher one because, look, if you were starting from a blank sheet of paper, you would never want to have any kind of unlimited detention. On the other hand, what was clear back in 2005 is there were people who were a real threat but couldn't be charged. And what did you do? And I understand why those decisions were made.

I think the jury's still out on this one. If the security services and the police can persuade the Home Secretary there's alternatives to control orders – it could be travel restrictions, it could be more surveillance – then we should support that. Consensus is the right thing. I think on that one, the jury's still out. We don't yet know whether an alternative to control orders can work.

Miliband is certain to resist the temptation to label the coalition as "soft on terror" but others in his party may not. On Twitter, the Labour MP Pat McFadden declares: "Control orders: the PM's duty is to protect the public, not 'look after' the Lib Dems."

To portray the move as a sop to the Lib Dems isn't wholly accurate. Several of the ministers pushing hardest against control orders are Tories, including the Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, and the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve. Conversely, Lord Carlile, who today warns the government against scrapping control orders, is a Lib Dem peer. But, as Norman Tebbit recognises, the charge that David Cameron has put the interests of the Lib Dems before the interests of the public is a potent one.

Miliband's instinct will be to support the abolition of control orders and to back what are described as "mitigating measures". But, once again, he may find himself at odds with a significant number of his MPs.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.