Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Economic crisis isn't over yet. This may not even be the beginning of the end (Guardian)

Statistically, the UK is out of recession – but it took an Olympian effort to achieve even this fragile upturn, writes Larry Elliott.

2. Gordon Brown’s secret army could defeat the coalition’s welfare and education reforms (Daily Telegraph)

Britain’s charities and quangos are now stuffed to the gunwales with Labour placemen, says Fraser Nelson.

3. There is no ‘unishambles’ in education (Independent)

The government's university reforms are putting a new focus on the student experience, promoting opportunity and helping reduce the public deficit, argues David Willetts.

4. Look out, wolves. The little pigs’ time is here (Times) (£)

Whether you’re Man Utd manager, Chief Whip or BBC boss, don’t expect deference any more, writes Gaby Hinsliff.

5. This withering assault on farm workers' wages is a race to the bottom (Guardian)

Farming is the last sector where pay rates have some level of protection, and now that is under threat, writes Polly Toynbee. Labour, take note.

6. Turkey stumbles on the road to Damascus (Financial Times)

Ankara has come to realise that it has been overtaken by events, writes Philip Stephens.

7. Good news for the economy at last... now can we cut taxes? (Daily Mail)

Osborne must recognise that high taxes are the enemy of enterprise and growth, says Alex Brummer.

8. Whether it’s the Hutton Report or Jimmy Savile, the BBC is hopeless in a crisis (Daily Telegraph)

Peter Rippon of Newsnight has been hung out to dry as his BBC bosses play the blame game, writes Andrew Gilligan.

9. The threat to local government's heroic, civilising role (Guardian)

Brutal cuts and the demands of core provision put services such as museums, parks and community halls at huge risk, says Tristram Hunt.

10. If the City of London loses the trust of the people it serves, whether home or abroad, it's finished (Independent)

Customers are not to be thought of as sales targets but as people with whom the institution aims to have a mutually profitable relationship, writes Andreas Whittam Smith.

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The three avoidable mistakes that Theresa May has made in the Brexit negotiations

She ignored the official Leave campaign, and many Remainers, in pursuing Brexit in the way she has.

We shouldn’t have triggered Article 50 at all before agreeing an exit deal

When John Kerr, the British diplomat who drafted Article 50 wrote it, he believed it would only be used by “a dictatorial regime” that, having had its right to vote on EU decisions suspended “would then, in high dudgeon, want to storm out”.

The process was designed to maximise the leverage of the remaining members of the bloc and disadvantage the departing state. At one stage, it was envisaged that any country not ratifying the Lisbon Treaty would be expelled under the process – Article 50 is not intended to get “the best Brexit deal” or anything like it.

Contrary to Theresa May’s expectation that she would be able to talk to individual member states, Article 50 is designed to ensure that agreement is reached “de vous, chez vous, mais sans vous” – “about you, in your own home, but without you”, as I wrote before the referendum result.

There is absolutely no reason for a departing nation to use Article 50 before agreement has largely been reached. A full member of the European Union obviously has more leverage than one that is two years away from falling out without a deal. There is no reason to trigger Article 50 until you’re good and ready, and the United Kingdom’s negotiating team is clearly very far from either being “good” or “ready”.

As Dominic Cummings, formerly of Vote Leave, said during the campaign: “No one in their right mind would begin a legally defined two-year maximum period to conduct negotiations before they actually knew, roughly speaking, what the process was going to yield…that would be like putting a gun in your mouth and pulling the trigger.”

If we were going to trigger Article 50, we shouldn’t have triggered it when we did

As I wrote before Theresa May triggered Article 50 in March, 2017 is very probably the worst year you could pick to start leaving the European Union. Elections across member states meant the bloc was in a state of flux, and those elections were always going to eat into the time. 

May has got lucky in that the French elections didn’t result in a tricky “co-habitation” between a president of one party and a legislature dominated by another, as Emmanuel Macron won the presidency and a majority for his new party, République en Marche.

It also looks likely that Angela Merkel will clearly win the German elections, meaning that there won’t be a prolonged absence of the German government after the vote in September.

But if the British government was determined to put the gun in its own mouth and pull the trigger, it should have waited until after the German elections to do so.

The government should have made a unilateral offer on the rights of EU citizens living in the United Kingdom right away

The rights of the three million people from the European Union in the United Kingdom were a political sweet spot for Britain. We don’t have the ability to enforce a cut-off date until we leave the European Union, it wouldn’t be right to uproot three million people who have made their lives here, there is no political will to do so – more than 80 per cent of the public and a majority of MPs of all parties want to guarantee the rights of EU citizens – and as a result there is no plausible leverage to be had by suggesting we wouldn’t protect their rights.

If May had, the day she became PM, made a unilateral guarantee and brought forward legislation guaranteeing these rights, it would have bought Britain considerable goodwill – as opposed to the exercise of fictional leverage.

Although Britain’s refusal to accept the EU’s proposal on mutually shared rights has worried many EU citizens, the reality is that, because British public opinion – and the mood among MPs – is so sharply in favour of their right to remain, no one buys that the government won’t do it. So it doesn’t buy any leverage – while an early guarantee in July of last year would have bought Britain credit.

But at least the government hasn’t behaved foolishly about money

Despite the pressure on wages caused by the fall in the value of the pound and the slowdown in growth, the United Kingdom is still a large and growing economy that is perfectly well-placed to buy the access it needs to the single market, provided that it doesn’t throw its toys out of the pram over paying for its pre-agreed liabilities, and continuing to pay for the parts of EU membership Britain wants to retain, such as cross-border policing activity and research.

So there’s that at least.

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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