Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. They’re out to get Cameron, but let’s not laugh too soon (Independent)

After plebgate and traingate the left longs to see Cameron unseated - but be careful what you wish for, writes Owen Jones.

2. It's been a week of low farce for the Tories. Yet little has really changed (Guardian)

Coalition troubles don't mean improving Labour fortunes: the economy and the eurozone still offer Cameron a chance, says Jackie Ashley.

3. Shadow of 9/11 towers over the US election (Financial Times)

The presidential campaign shows that the US has not yet left the Bush era behind, says Edward Luce.

4. Our universities need the Californian dream (Times) (£)

Britain must diversify: we should offer more than three-year degrees aimed at school leavers, writes Martin Rees.

5. This presidential election show is lame, but the outcome could be dramatic (Guardian)

The Democrats are clearly doing something right, yet almost any outcome lies within a narrowing margin of error, writes Gary Younge.

6. With the BBC on the run, ITV’s reputation is gaining ground (Independent)

The Savile story is essentially a tale of two broadcasters, and ITV will come out looking better for it, says Ian Burrell.

7. The austerity debate: time to think much bigger (Guardian)

Halting the government's programme to shrink the state will not resolve the other underlying problems, says a Guardian editorial.

8. Banking union will not end Europe’s crisis (Financial Times)

The project could unite the EU’s core but it will also separate it from the rest, writes Wolfgang Munchau.

9. David Cameron’s Euro pledge is a load of Brussels spouts (Sun)

Can we believe a word "Cast Iron Dave" says about a referendum after his previous broken promises, asks Nigel Farage.

10. Carlton Club snub adds to Mitchell woes (Daily Mail)

The club membership committee has decided unanimously to give honorary membership to Grant Shapps, the new Tory chairman, but not Mitchell, writes Andrew Pierce.

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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.