A member of a local militia guards remnants of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. Photo: Getty
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David Cameron calls for more sanctions on Russia after the MH17 crash

The PM has spoken to Putin about Russia's role in the Malaysian Airlines crash, and is urging his EU allies to impose harsher sanctions on Russia.

Over the weekend, both Britain and the US decided it was highly likely the Malaysian Airlines flight that crashed in east Ukraine was brought down by pro-Russian separatists.

In light of this, David Cameron spoke to the Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday evening, urging him to allow international access to the site of the crash. At present, the rebels controlling the area are not allowing proper access to the crash site, and they also removed the plane’s black boxes, which they have since agreed to hand over.

Cameron made clear to Putin that the bringing down of the flight was “totally unacceptable” and a source told the Mail that he also said to the Russian President: “Ten of my citizens have just been killed in a plane brought down by a missile fired by Russian separatists. I have been asking to speak to you since this happened. You clearly can play a role in exerting influence on the separatists to grant us access to the site.”

The PM has also been discussing stronger sanctions on Russia with his allies in the EU. The French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have both agreed with the PM that the main priority is to gain unfettered access to the site to recover victims, but have also discussed a new, harsher approach to Russia by way of sanctions.

However, the BBC is reporting a “lack of appetite” among EU countries for expanding existing sanctions on Russia, which is apparently frustrating Downing Street.

Cameron will make a statement to the Commons later today. He's good at these kind of statesmanlike addresses, and his enthusiasm for harsher sanctions made clear by No 10 is a decisive move in the right direction. However, there's only so much he can do in this situation without his EU allies wholeheartedly on-side. Germany is more reticent about sanctions because of its reliance on Russian gas, and also its position as Russia's biggest European trading partner.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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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.