Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. On gay marriage, Cameron and Osborne have reached the right decision - for the wrong reason (Independent)

History shows that acting for strategic reasons only can backfire, says Steve Richards.

2. There's more to this Scargill chic than mere fashion nostalgia (Guardian)

The high-street retailer's new collection of clothes dedicated to the former miners' leader reminds us of times when workers were taken more seriously, writes Aditya Chakrabortty.

3. America’s drone war is out of control (Financial Times)

Unmanned strikes to kill suspected terrorists set a dangerous precedent, says Gideon Rachman.

4. Britain could end these tax scams by hitting the big four (Guardian)

The spiders spinning the web of avoidance are the major accountancy firms who make billions from the public purse, writes Polly Toynbee.

5. Leaders’ debates are good for democracy (Daily Telegraph)

The Prime Minister should not be allowed to wriggle out of the debates, argues a Telegraph editorial.

6. Spineless Labour need to seize on Tory's smash and grab on families (Daily Mirror)

The Chancellor is cheating the very Britons he claims to champion, says Kevin Maguire.

7. This £20m cheque is an historic turning point (Times) (£)

We need to open up the tax affairs of the FTSE 100 and pursue avoiders more rapidly, writes Margaret Hodge.

8. The time has come to decriminalise all drugs (Independent)

It is time to acknowledge that the war that could never be won is now categorically lost, says an Independent leader.

9. Politicians miss the point of business (Financial Times)

Ministers need to remember that business exists to make a profit within the law, writes Janan Ganesh.

10. On drugs, the law lags behind public opinion (Daily Telegraph)

The Home Office won’t admit it, but most Britons would scrap the ban on cannabis, says Philip Johnston.

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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.