Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Don't blame the ratings agencies for the eurozone turmoil (Guardian)

Europe and the eurozone are strangling themselves with a toxic mixture of austerity and a structurally flawed financial system, says Ha-Joon Chang.

2. The SNP can't make the rules and be the ref (Times) (£)

When it comes to the vote it will be about the questions the Nationalists refuse to answer, says Jim Murphy.

3. For too many African-Americans, prison is a legacy passed from father to son (Guardian)

Today is Martin Luther King Day, writes Gary Younge. But with more African-American men facing jail than were enslaved in 1870, there is little to celebrate.

4. What happens when even your supporters don't believe in you? (Independent)

The problem is that Ed Miliband is too clever, unlike Neil Kinnock, who didn't seem clever enough, says Mary Ann Sieghart.

5. There is a golden opportunity to be seized in Asia (Daily Telegraph)

A strong relationship with Asia is a central part of the government's economic strategy, writes George Osborne.

6. After the downgrades comes the downward spiral (Financial Times)

The eurozone has exhausted its toolkit, says Wolfgang Munchau.

7. The only way to save the Union is to stop throwing cash at the Scots - and treat them as equals (Daily Mail)

Cameron should reduce or abolish altogether those anachronistic subsidies from Westminster, argues Melanie Phillips.

8. The Costa Concordia disaster highlights the dangers of super-sized cruise ships (Guardian)

Rapid developments in passenger shipping have not kept pace with safety requirements: this is a wake-up call to the industry, says Andrew Linington.

9. The Church of England needs to forget its silliness about homosexuality (Independent)

The Church's double-speak condemns people to a life without the joy of sexual intimacy, says Chris Bryant.

10. When a Tea Party-style folly comes to Nigeria (Financial Times)

Petrol-subsidy protests are against much needed reform, writes Paul Collier.

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Theresa May's "clean Brexit" is hard Brexit with better PR

The Prime Minister's objectives point to the hardest of exits from the European Union. 

Theresa May will outline her approach to Britain’s Brexit deal in a much-hyped speech later today, with a 12-point plan for Brexit.

The headlines: her vow that Britain will not be “half in, half out” and border control will come before our membership of the single market.

And the PM will unveil a new flavour of Brexit: not hard, not soft, but “clean” aka hard but with better PR.

“Britain's clean break from EU” is the i’s splash, “My 12-point plan for Brexit” is the Telegraph’s, “We Will Get Clean Break From EU” cheers the Express, “Theresa’s New Free Britain” roars the Mail, “May: We’ll Go It Alone With CLEAN Brexit” is the Metro’s take. The Guardian goes for the somewhat more subdued “May rules out UK staying in single market” as their splash while the Sun opts for “Great Brexpectations”.

You might, at this point, be grappling with a sense of déjà vu. May’s new approach to the Brexit talks is pretty much what you’d expect from what she’s said since getting the keys to Downing Street, as I wrote back in October. Neither of her stated red lines, on border control or freeing British law from the European Court of Justice, can be met without taking Britain out of the single market aka a hard Brexit in old money.

What is new is the language on the customs union, the only area where May has actually been sparing on detail. The speech will make it clear that after Brexit, Britain will want to strike its own trade deals, which means that either an unlikely exemption will be carved out, or, more likely, that the United Kingdom will be out of the European Union, the single market and the customs union.

(As an aside, another good steer about the customs union can be found in today’s row between Boris Johnson and the other foreign ministers of the EU27. He is under fire for vetoing an EU statement in support of a two-state solution, reputedly to curry favour with Donald Trump. It would be strange if Downing Street was shredding decades of British policy on the Middle East to appease the President-Elect if we weren’t going to leave the customs union in order at the end of it.)

But what really matters isn’t what May says today but what happens around Europe over the next few months. Donald Trump’s attacks on the EU and Nato yesterday will increase the incentive on the part of the EU27 to put securing the political project front-and-centre in the Brexit talks, making a good deal for Britain significantly less likely.

Add that to the unforced errors on the part of the British government, like Amber Rudd’s wheeze to compile lists of foreign workers, and the diplomatic situation is not what you would wish to secure the best Brexit deal, to put it mildly.

Clean Brexit? Nah. It’s going to get messy. 

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