Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Angelina Jolie is right (Sunday Express)

It has long been known that rape is used as a weapon in war, an act that is part of a tactic rather than a consequence of conflict.

2. If Thatcher's revolution had truly saved us, why is Britain in such a mess today? (Observer)

The claims made for Mrs Thatcher's transformative powers are grossly exaggerated.

3. As the liberal sneers persist, who now speaks for the Essex man? (Sunday Times) (£)

Camilla Cavendish argues there is far less optimism for the would-be "self-made" Essex man now than in Thatcher's day.

4. Poverty food is the diet of choice. Our choice (Independent on Sunday)

The West may take a fancy to recipes inspired by the peasant life, but those compelled to eat that way would marvel at our plenty.

5. Margaret Thatcher is dead. But someone has reinvented her life (Observer)

So positive has been the media coverage of Baroness Thatcher's achievements, that I'm beginning to wonder if I imagined the entire 80s, writes Stuart Lee.

6. Thatcher's children have grown up. The world has changed since her time (Times) (£)

This generation of politicians has its own path to tread, says Michael Gove.

7. What it will take to break up Britain (Scotland on Sunday)

Iain McLean, Jim Gallagher and Guy Lodge preview their forthcoming book "Scotland's Choices".

8. Let's remember Maggie for what she really was ... a tragic failure (Mail on Sunday)

Peter Hitchens lets readers know why he is not "a worshipper at the Thatcher Shrine".

9. Margaret Thatcher - the dogged climber who pulled the ladder up (Independent on Sunday)

Baroness Thatcher did little to help less privileged women, believing the battle for women's rights had been won. She was talking about herself

10. Why David Cameron won't confront Ukip (Guardian)

The Tories, doing less well than they should be, are running scared of challenging what Nigel Farage's crew stands for.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

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.