Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

 

1. Cautious president deserves second term (Financial Times)

The case for Barack Obama is that he navigated the storms with careful intelligence, says Philip Stephens.

2. Labour, you've made your point about the EU – now make the case for it (Guardian)

In tough times it is only right that the EU budget be trimmed, but the left must never forget the benefits of membership, says Polly Toynbee.

3. America's political system is paralysed by hatred between Democrats and Republicans (Daily Mail)

The constitution created in 1776 is cracking open at the seams, says Max Hastings.

4. Radical paths to rebalance the UK economy (Financial Times)

The Bank of England could purchase foreign, rather than domestic, assets, writes Martin Wolf.

5. Britain shouldn’t jump the gun on leaving the European Union (Daily Telegraph)

Rather than rush for the exit, it would be better to allow the euro crisis to play out, says Jeremy Warner.

6. Leveson inquiry: prejudging the judge (Guardian)

The law on its own is not sufficient – which is why Leveson has to consider regulation, says a Guardian editorial.

7. We are all in the chorus of Dystopia Limited (Times) (£)

The 19th-century vision of the responsible company has vanished, as workers are denied their share of the rewards, writes Philip Collins.

8. Big Apple shows how to live with climate change (Daily Telegraph)

Technology and human ingenuity can defuse natural disasters that once killed thousands, says Fraser Nelson.

9. Superstorm Sandy sounds a warning (Financial Times)

New York is ill-prepared for the impact of climate change, says an FT editorial.

10. Labour and others have played a shameful role in the EU budget debate (Independent)

The government's defeat over the EU budget was a victory for parochial pettiness, not democracy, as some have suggested, writes Adrian Hamilton.

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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.