Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Have a happy Christmas – things can only get worse (Guardian)

From local government to health, spending plans show the deepest cuts are yet to come, writes Polly Toynbee. This is bad news for Labour.

2. A case remains for economic liberalism (Financial Times)

The philosophy’s basic tenets hold sound despite the financial crisis, argues Samuel Brittan.

3. The west can’t direct the Arab Spring, but we can support it (Independent)

You can't expect mature politics to be practised in countries like Egypt where political parties have been banned for 50 years, says Adrian Hamilton.

4. British secret agents need protection from lawyers (Daily Telegraph)

We have been too slow at giving our spies vital protection against predatory lawyers, says Fraser Nelson.

5. NHS privatisation fears? Grow up (Guardian)

Competition works, says Ian Birrell. This bizarre, nostalgic prejudice against profits only damages the health service.

6. That speech on Europe ... can we put it off? (Times) (£)

The Prime Minister is in a fix, says Philip Collins. There is nothing sensible he can say about the EU that will also satisfy his backbenchers.

7. America’s fiscal fix could help Britain too (Daily Telegraph)

Flatter taxes are one of the best ideas for raising US revenues – so let’s try them here, says Jeremy Warner.

8. Patten must take the blame for a sorry saga (Daily Mail)

Everyone, according to Lord Patten, was to blame for the BBC’s shortcomings over the Savile and McAlpine scandals but the Trust chairman himself, says a Daily Mail editorial.

9. Britain’s middle class is not just squeezed but deceived (Independent)

The odds have always been weighted against the “little people”, writes Mary Dejevsky. But the disparity in power has grown since the banking crisis.

10. The BBC and bad public sector management (Financial Times)

High pay at public bodies stinks - they have taken the worst practices of the private sector, writes Andrew Hill.

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Theresa May's "clean Brexit" is hard Brexit with better PR

The Prime Minister's objectives point to the hardest of exits from the European Union. 

Theresa May will outline her approach to Britain’s Brexit deal in a much-hyped speech later today, with a 12-point plan for Brexit.

The headlines: her vow that Britain will not be “half in, half out” and border control will come before our membership of the single market.

And the PM will unveil a new flavour of Brexit: not hard, not soft, but “clean” aka hard but with better PR.

“Britain's clean break from EU” is the i’s splash, “My 12-point plan for Brexit” is the Telegraph’s, “We Will Get Clean Break From EU” cheers the Express, “Theresa’s New Free Britain” roars the Mail, “May: We’ll Go It Alone With CLEAN Brexit” is the Metro’s take. The Guardian goes for the somewhat more subdued “May rules out UK staying in single market” as their splash while the Sun opts for “Great Brexpectations”.

You might, at this point, be grappling with a sense of déjà vu. May’s new approach to the Brexit talks is pretty much what you’d expect from what she’s said since getting the keys to Downing Street, as I wrote back in October. Neither of her stated red lines, on border control or freeing British law from the European Court of Justice, can be met without taking Britain out of the single market aka a hard Brexit in old money.

What is new is the language on the customs union, the only area where May has actually been sparing on detail. The speech will make it clear that after Brexit, Britain will want to strike its own trade deals, which means that either an unlikely exemption will be carved out, or, more likely, that the United Kingdom will be out of the European Union, the single market and the customs union.

(As an aside, another good steer about the customs union can be found in today’s row between Boris Johnson and the other foreign ministers of the EU27. He is under fire for vetoing an EU statement in support of a two-state solution, reputedly to curry favour with Donald Trump. It would be strange if Downing Street was shredding decades of British policy on the Middle East to appease the President-Elect if we weren’t going to leave the customs union in order at the end of it.)

But what really matters isn’t what May says today but what happens around Europe over the next few months. Donald Trump’s attacks on the EU and Nato yesterday will increase the incentive on the part of the EU27 to put securing the political project front-and-centre in the Brexit talks, making a good deal for Britain significantly less likely.

Add that to the unforced errors on the part of the British government, like Amber Rudd’s wheeze to compile lists of foreign workers, and the diplomatic situation is not what you would wish to secure the best Brexit deal, to put it mildly.

Clean Brexit? Nah. It’s going to get messy. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.