Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from the papers.

1. The giants of the green world that profit from the planet's destruction (Guardian)

A new movement has erupted demanding divestment from fossil fuel polluters – and Big Green is in their sights, writes Naomi Klein.

2. Panic is pointless. UKIP’s not a serious party (Times)

Nigel Farage is benefiting from a move away from two-party domination, but protest parties always fizzle out, says Philip Collins.

3. Wanted: a leader who can unite the warring Tory tribes (Daily Telegraph)

The modernisers and the right of the Conservative Party need one another to create a winning coalition, says Iain Martin.

4. We know spending on the arts makes big money for Britain. So why cut it? (Guardian)

Whingeing luvvies are easily mocked but it just doesn't make sense to give way to this purblind, anti-cultural bias, says Polly Toynbee.

5. Will Osborne choose politics or prudence? (Times)

If the Chancellor rushes to give away bank shares, he will reveal his true priorities, writes Sam Coates.

6. Will Carney be a man of independent mind? (Daily Telegraph)

Chancellor George Osborne has made himself clear, and the new Bank of England governor may face an early test, writes Jeremy Warner.

7. No such thing as ‘historic’ rape (Independent)

There no reason – legal or moral – for such crimes to "expire", particularly given the trauma that often results, says an Independent editorial.

8. Threats to Asia’s fragile power balance (Financial Times)

The world’s most vibrant region is also potentially its most combustible, writes Philip Stephens.

9. Charging headlong towards a secret state (Daily Mail)

Secret arrests are an assault on Britain's hard-won freedoms, says a Daily Mail editorial.

10. Holland is proof that the less power a monarch has the more we seem to love them (Independent)

When nations fall into crisis, their populations cry out for the saviour figure, writes Peter Popham.

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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.