Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from the Sunday papers.

1. The Tories couldn't deliver the goods without the Lib Dems (Sunday Telegraph)

The Conservative right is wilfully blind to the fact that it is getting pretty much what it wants from a coalition that it hates, argues Matthew d'Ancona.

2. Bringing the bankers to heel must start right here, right now (Observer)

If Britain doesn't take a lead in controlling Big Finance, says Will Hutton, outrageous bonuses will carry on being paid and there will be another crisis.

3. Ed needs business more than big wins (Independent on Sunday)

The Lib Dems lost the Old & Sad by-election but claimed success. Labour won it but it's a terrible result for them, according to John Rentoul.

4. High taxes breed clever dodgers (Sunday Times) (£)

England's footballers, who rarely troubled opposition defences in the World Cup, are proving much more adept at outflanking the taxman, says a leading article.

5. Labour can only win if voters believe they're on the money (Observer)

The British public is not going to hand Labour the keys to No 10 until it restore its economic credibility, says Andrew Rawnsley.

6. What would be the impact of the Alternative Vote? (Sunday Telegraph)

Why are we having a referendum on AV? How does the voting system work? And is it fair? Tim Montgomerie reports.

7. Books for all, not just the wealthy (Independent on Sunday)

This leading article criticises cuts to public libraries, which will have a disproportionate effect on deprived areas.

8. Now we have two kinds of elderly (Sunday Times) (£)

Minette Marrin warns that as the elderly work for longer, two classes of old people will emerge – those who employers want and those who employers don't.

9. We can transform our countryside. Put forests in the hands of the people (Observer)

Andy Wightman maintains that a campaign to stop the government selling our woodlands misses a great chance to revolutionise their ownership.

10. Barack Obama captured the mood of a nation. Can David Cameron do the same? (Sunday Telegraph)

The president's speech in Tuscon showed the transforming power of language – a power that Cameron has so far been unable to master, argues Janet Daley.

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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.