Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Xi Jinping and Barack Obama: two leaders facing very different crises (Guardian)

China's new leader faces deeper challenges than the US President, writes Timothy Garton Ash. We must hope they are met: it could be a matter of war and peace.

2. A good day for Cameron, but a rout for the Tory right’s vision (Daily Telegraph)

Cameron and Osborne must learn from Mitt Romney’s defeat and rethink Conservative election strategy for 2015, says Peter Oborne.

3. Obama shattered the GOP’s delusions (Financial Times)

Republicans have been evicted from their state of denial, writes Simon Schama.

4. Barack Obama's second term: change he can believe in (Guardian)

The change that Obama heralded before his first term as president may finally be on its way, says a Guardian editorial.

5. Beware a modern Salem over child abuse (Times) (£)

Pursuing witch hunts is as dangerous as ignoring victims, writes David Aaronovitch. Don’t launch inquiries on the back of lurid claims.

6. President has allies to unlock Congress (Financial Times)

Obama and businesses seeking stability can help each other out of a fix, writes John Gapper.

7. The debate about wealth must start with morals (Guardian)

We often end up arguing for equality on the basis of outcomes, rather than principle, writes Zoe Williams. But decent pay is only fair.

8. It’s time for a Republican Party clear-out (Daily Telegraph)

The party's sound economic policies are being drowned out by the strident voices of dubious fringe figures, writes Anne Applebaum.

9. Obama's victory is a triumph for science over superstition (Independent)

Karl Rove, and the delusional wing of the Republican party, will be forced still deeper into their reality-defying bunker, writes Matthew Norman.

10. New dawn? This looks more like a new dusk (Daily Mail)

The second Obama term will increase the deficit, further diminishing America’s economic power and credibility, says Simon Heffer.

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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.