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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 rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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