Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Conservatives will battle for Britain's future (Sunday Telegraph)

Rather than shifting left or shifting right, the Conservatives are positioning themselves in the "common ground" of British politics, says David Cameron.

2. The Tories should now know you don't beat Ukip by copying them (Observer)

Conservative MPs urging David Cameron to lurch right are drawing the wrong conclusion from Eastleigh, says Andrew Rawnsley.

3. Dave's rebels pull off their gloves - for the big Budget bust-up (Mail on Sunday)

David Cameron and George Osborne’s internal enemies are set to demand a change of economic direction, writes James Forsyth.

4. The PM can still win, but it might have to get personal (Sunday Telegraph)

People need to hear a narrative that makes sense of the pain, the change and the challenge – and they haven’t heard it yet, writes Matthew d'Ancona.

5. Ten years on, the case for invading Iraq is still valid (Observer)

A decade after Saddam Hussein was overthrown, why are some progressives still loath to celebrate his demise, asks Nick Cohen.

6. As ever, Tony Blair is David Cameron's guide (Independent on Sunday)

The credit-rating downgrade and Ukip's success in Eastleigh could have resulted in the PM changing course, writes John Rentoul. He has rightly not done so.

7. How shaming the poor became our new bloodsport (Observer)

Politicians have taken the lead in blaming poverty on the poor, writes Barbara Ellen.

8. At long last, a return to British justice (Mail on Sunday)

Theresa May's plan to pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights will ensure foreign criminals cannot be sheltered from justice, says a Mail on Sunday editorial.

9. UKIP’s purple patch is here to stay, PM (Sunday Times)

The potential is there for Farage and his followers to move from disruptive force to breakthrough, writes Adam Boulton.

10. Aid has transformed Africa. Now is the time for growth and governance (Observer)

Africa has made huge advances since the 2005 Glenagles summit – but it still needs our support, says Tony Blair.

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Why Angela Merkel's comments about the UK and US shouldn't be given too much weight

The Chancellor's comments are aimed at a domestic and European audience, and she won't be abandoning Anglo-German relationships just yet.

Angela Merkel’s latest remarks do not seem well-judged but should not be given undue significance. Speaking as part of a rally in Munich for her sister party, the CSU, the German Chancellor claimed “we Europeans must really take our own fate into our hands”.

The comments should be read in the context of September's German elections and Merkel’s determination to restrain the fortune of her main political rival, Martin Schulz – obviously a strong Europhile and a committed Trump critic. Sigmar Gabriel - previously seen as a candidate to lead the left-wing SPD - has for some time been pressing for Germany and Europe to have “enough self-confidence” to stand up to Trump. He called for a “self-confident position, not just on behalf of us Germans but all Europeans”. Merkel is in part responding to this pressure.

Her words were well received by her audience. The beer hall crowd erupted into sustained applause. But taking an implicit pop at Donald Trump is hardly likely to be a divisive tactic at such a gathering. Criticising the UK post-Brexit and the US under Trump is the sort of virtue signalling guaranteed to ensure a good clap.

It’s not clear that the comments represent that much of a new departure, as she herself has since claimed. She said something similar earlier this year. In January, after the publication of Donald Trump’s interview with The Times and Bild, she said that “we Europeans have our fate in our own hands”.

At one level what Merkel said is something of a truism: in two year’s time Britain will no longer be directly deciding the fate of the EU. In future no British Prime Minister will attend the European Council, and British MEPs will leave the Parliament at the next round of European elections in 2019. Yet Merkel’s words “we Europeans”, conflate Europe and the EU, something she has previously rejected. Back in July last year, at a joint press conference with Theresa May, she said: “the UK after all remains part of Europe, if not of the Union”.

At the same press conference, Merkel also confirmed that the EU and the UK would need to continue to work together. At that time she even used the first person plural to include Britain, saying “we have certain missions also to fulfil with the rest of the world” – there the ‘we’ meant Britain and the EU, now the 'we' excludes Britain.

Her comments surely also mark a frustration born of difficulties at the G7 summit over climate change, but Britain and Germany agreed at the meeting in Sicily on the Paris Accord. More broadly, the next few months will be crucial for determining the future relationship between Britain and the EU. There will be many difficult negotiations ahead.

Merkel is widely expected to remain the German Chancellor after this autumn’s election. As the single most powerful individual in the EU27, she is the most crucial person in determining future relations between the UK and the EU. Indeed, to some extent, it was her intransigence during Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ which precipitated Brexit itself. She also needs to watch with care growing irritation across the EU at the (perceived) extent of German influence and control over the institutions and direction of the European project. Recent reports in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which suggested a Merkel plan for Jens Weidmann of the Bundesbank to succeed Mario Draghi at the ECB have not gone down well across southern Europe. For those critics, the hands controlling the fate of Europe are Merkel’s.

Brexit remains a crucial challenge for the EU. How the issue is handled will shape the future of the Union. Many across Europe’s capitals are worried that Brussels risks driving Britain further away than Brexit will require; they are worried lest the Channel becomes metaphorically wider and Britain turns its back on the continent. On the UK side, Theresa May has accepted the EU, and particularly Merkel’s, insistence, that there can be no cherry picking, and therefore she has committed to leaving the single market as well as the EU. May has offered a “deep and special” partnership and a comprehensive free trading arrangement. Merkel should welcome Britain’s clarity. She must work with new French President Emmanuel Macron and others to lead the EU towards a new relationship with Britain – a close partnership which protects free trade, security and the other forms of cooperation which benefit all Europeans.

Henry Newman is the director of Open Europe. He tweets @henrynewman.

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