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Theresa May is making the same mistake that Syriza did

She is overestimating her leverage, and underestimating the EU's willingness to suffer economic damage. 

Today's big story? A set of handwritten notes, snapped by an enterprising photographer, as Julia Dockerill, chief of staff to Conservative MP Mark Field, walked out of 9 Downing Street. The note appears to reveal much of the government’s strategy for negotiating Britain’s Brexit deal.

Among the revelations: ministers are “loath” to do a transitional deal for fear that the Civil Service will try to hold on it indefinitely. Their preferred plan? “Canada plus”, a trade deal similar to the EU-Canada deal, but with more provided for services, or as the note says to “have our cake and eat it”, as far as the benefits of EU membership are concerned, without the perceived downsides of reduced sovereignty and free movement of people. But the same notes warn that the negotiating team is “very French”, and that France is keen to shake Britain down in the talks.  “‘Have cake and eat it’ — aide reveals Brexit tactic” is the Times splash.

Not only that, but the note suggests that the government has ruled out single market membership, though, as I’ve written before, that was already clear from Theresa May’s public pronouncements.

Although the government has said the notes “do not reflect the government’s position”, they represent what you might call the “maximal” position for Britain: all the benefits, none of the drawbacks on EU membership.  (Missing in action from the notes: whether we’ll still keep paying into the EU after we leave, a subject on which the government has kept notably quiet.)

The sentence that deserves more attention than it has thus far received from those notes: the line that the EU27 “don’t want instability in Europe” and are “fearful of us [the UK] as competitor.” As with much of the notes, these are things that ministers are saying privately, but, let’s be clear: the EU27 are not fearful of a post-Brexit UK as a competitor on the world stage. As Mario Draghi noted yesterday, they are well aware that a hard Brexit will hurt both sides, but it will be Britain who comes off worse – “Brexit will impose heavier toll on UK than Eurozone, Draghi warns” is the FT’s splash.

What it all feels reminiscent of – and is worth recalling – is the run-up to the first collision between the then newly-installed Syriza government and the Eurozone. Syriza ministers wildly overestimated their leverage and underestimated the willingness of the EU’s leaders to suffer economic damage to maintain the political project. May’s ministers approach to Britain’s exit talks risk going the same way.


Philip Hammond is coming under growing pressure from Conservative MPs to provide more support for the NHS and social care, Rowena Mason reports in the Guardian. Four Tory MPs have called for the Chancellor to act swiftly to tackle the problem.


Richmond’s Greens have rounded on the party’s leader, Caroline Lucas, for endorsing the Liberal Democrat candidate, Sarah Olney, as she seeks to topple Zac Goldsmith in Thursday’s by-election. (The Greens have opted not to stand.) They say that the party should instead endorse Labour, who finished a distant third in 2015. The Liberal Democrats believe they have cut Goldsmith’s majority to 3 per cent, with the remaining Labour vote pivotal to the outcome. Jessica Elgot has the story.


The government is being advised to halt its planned rise in the minimum wage by the OECD, who believe it will lead to job losses if the rise goes ahead as planned.


The government faces a second legal headache over the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU. British Influence is seeking a judicial review over whether or not a separate vote is required to trigger Article 127, which removes a nation from the EEA, a separate economic arrangement that was not subject to the referendum. The government argues that Britain’s membership of the EEA was entered into as part of the country’s EU membership, and should therefore be considered part and parcel of leaving the EU.


Paul Nuttall was elected Ukip’s latest leader yesterday, and vowed to target Labour in its safe seats in the North. The Sun lists the 20 Labour seats that Ukip believes are most vulnerable, which include that of Tristram Hunt, Jon Cruddas and Angela Rayner.


Francois Hollande has cut a deal with his Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, meaning that he will not face a challenge for his party’s nomination from within his government. According to the polls, Hollande is on course to receive a mere 8 per cent of the vote if he is the Socialist candidate next April.


Ed Balls has refused to rule out a return to British politics in an exclusive interview with the Sun’s Ryan Kisiel.  “You never say never,” the former shadow chancellor said.


Andrew Dickson explains why Britain’s addiction to period drama is driving away some of our best acting talent.


This isn’t the end of Ukip. It’s just the beginning, says Anoosh

Julia meets Debbie Abrahams

Fillon is as much a threat to liberal values as Le Pen, says Natalie Nougayrède

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

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.