Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. For failed asylum seekers, life on section 4 is a nightmare worse than Kafka (Guardian)

Britain's ability to offer sanctuary is being stifled by a home secretary eager to back up her tough talk on human rights, says Zoe Williams. 

2. We must shine a light into our secret state's dark corners (Daily Telegraph)

Britain's complicity in torture must be disguised by the new Justice and Security Bill, says Peter Oborne.

3. The guilty secret behind a private education (Times) (£)

Why do public school heads feel hated? Because they offer an immoral advantage that is getting ever more exclusive, says David Aaronovitch.

4. Mali could make France governable (Financial Times)

Intervention may benefit the beleaguered François Hollande, writes Dominique Moisi.

5. Why fixed terms parliaments are a nightmare for leaders and a gift for rebel MPs (Independent)

Conservative MPs can plot and stir because the next election is still years away, writes Steve Richards.

6. Dangerous mission creep in Mali (Independent)

With barely a blink and certainly no debate in Parliament – nearly 400 British military personnel are to be sent to the region, notes an Independent leader.

7. The SAS: a very special force (Daily Telegraph)

Cameron has promised to increase rather than cut defence spending after 2015, writes Con Coughlin. That’s just as well, because he needs his special forces more than ever.

8. Theresa May has simply got on with the job of police reform (Guardian)

The home secretary has seen through serious reforms of the police that others dodged, says Martin Kettle. If her luck holds the rewards could be great.

9. Yes, Poles are wonderful, but for Tony Blair to be feted for letting them flood into Britain is a sick joke (Daily Mail)

Blair should receive a badge of dishonour for undermining British workers, weakening public services and ignoring the interests of his own people, says Stephen Glover.

10. Corporate tax posturing should stop (Financial Times)

Companies are complying with laws that governments could change if they wished, writes John Gapper.

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Something is missing from the Brexit debate

Inside Westminster, few seem to have noticed or care about the biggest question mark in the Brexit talks. 

What do we know about the government’s Brexit strategy that we didn’t before? Not much, to be honest.

Theresa May has now said explicitly what her red lines on European law and free movement of labour said implicitly: that Britain is leaving the single market. She hasn’t ruled out continuing payments from Britain to Brussels, but she has said that they won’t be “vast”. (Much of the detail of Britain’s final arrangement is going to depend on what exactly “vast” means.)  We know that security co-operation will, as expected, continue after Brexit.

What is new? It’s Theresa May’s threat to the EU27 that Britain will walk away from a bad deal and exit without one that dominates the British newspapers.

“It's May Way or the Highway” quips City AM“No deal is better than a bad deal” is the Telegraph’s splash, “Give us a deal… or we walk” is the Mirror’s. The Guardian opts for “May’s Brexit threat to Europe”,  and “May to EU: give us fair deal or you’ll be crushed” is the Times’ splash.

The Mail decides to turn the jingoism up to 11 with “Steel of the new Iron Lady” and a cartoon of Theresa May on the white cliffs of Dover stamping on an EU flag. No, really.  The FT goes for the more sedate approach: “May eases Brexit fears but warns UK will walk away from 'bad deal’” is their splash.

There’s a lot to unpack here. The government is coming under fire for David Davis’ remark that even if Parliament rejects the Brexit deal, we will leave anyway. But as far as the Article 50 process is concerned, that is how it works. You either take the deal that emerges from the Article 50 process or have a disorderly exit. There is no process within exiting the European Union for a do-over.  

The government’s threat to Brussels makes sense from a negotiating perspective. It helps the United Kingdom get a better deal if the EU is convinced that the government is willing to suffer damage if the deal isn’t to its liking. But the risk is that the damage is seen as so asymmetric – and while the direct risk for the EU27 is bad, the knock-on effects for the UK are worse – that the threat looks like a bad bluff. Although European leaders have welcomed the greater clarity, Michel Barnier, the lead negotiator, has reiterated that their order of priority is to settle the terms of divorce first, agree a transition and move to a wider deal after that, rather than the trade deal with a phased transition that May favours.

That the frontpage of the Irish edition of the Daily Mail says “May is wrong, any deal is better than no deal” should give you an idea of how far the “do what I want or I shoot myself” approach is going to take the UK with the EU27. Even a centre-right newspaper in Britain's closest ally isn't buying that Britain will really walk away from a bad deal. 

Speaking of the Irish papers, there’s a big element to yesterday’s speech that has eluded the British ones: May’s de facto abandonment of the customs union and what that means for the border between the North and the South. “May’s speech indicates Border customs controls likely to return” is the Irish Times’ splash, “Brexit open border plan “an illusion”” is the Irish Independent’s, while “Fears for jobs as ‘hard Brexit’ looms” is the Irish Examiner’s.

There is widespread agreement in Westminster, on both sides of the Irish border and in the European Union that no-one wants a return to the borders of the past. The appetite to find a solution is high on all sides. But as one diplomat reflected to me recently, just because everyone wants to find a solution, doesn’t mean there is one to be found. 

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