Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Watch out, George Osborne: Smith, Marx and even the IMF are after you (Guardian)

When even the IMF's free market ideologues recoil from the UK chancellor's austerity politics, democracy itself is at stake, warns Ha-Joon Chang. 

2. For all his proficiency on the pallet, Ed still can’t speak human (Daily Telegraph)

The Labour leader’s populist approach isn’t working – precision and honesty are required, says Mary Riddell. 

3. The German model is not for export (Financial Times)

Forcing the eurozone to mimic Germany’s path to adjustment makes stagnation likely, writes Martin Wolf.

4. Cameron needs a big-tent conservatism (Times

Defectors to Nigel Farage came mostly from older voters, notes Daniel Finkelstein. Cameron needs to attract the young and the aspiring.

5. The idea that we can renegotiate with the EU is pure fantasy (Daily Mail)

The PM may not like it, but Nigel Lawson's absolutely right, says Daniel Hannan. 

6. Three ideas to fix the North-South divide in Britain (Independent)

Forty years ago London was struggling - but it's hard to identify the reasons for its turnaround, writes Hamish McRae. 

7. Lawson calls time on the three-pint heroes (Daily Telegraph)

The former Tory chancellor is right about leaving the EU, and closet sceptics will have to accept it, argues Nigel Farage.

8. The west and its allies cynically bleed Syria to weaken Iran (Guardian)

If western politicians were really interested in saving lives, they would use their leverage to negotiate a settlement, says Seumas Milne.

9. The EU has pushed Britain ‘out’ already (Times

No other European country shares our concern at the lack of democracy in the EU, writes Gisela Stuart.

10. If David Cameron had any sense, he would call a referendum on Europe now (Guardian)

With UKIP and now Nigel Lawson roaming free, he'll only regain the initiative on Europe if he calls Nick Clegg's bluff, writes Simon Jenkins.

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Theresa May’s Brexit speech is Angela Merkel’s victory – here’s why

The Germans coined the word “merkeln to describe their Chancellor’s approach to negotiations. 

It is a measure of Britain’s weak position that Theresa May accepts Angela Merkel’s ultimatum even before the Brexit negotiations have formally started

The British Prime Minister blinked first when she presented her plan for Brexit Tuesday morning. After months of repeating the tautological mantra that “Brexit means Brexit”, she finally specified her position when she essentially proposed that Britain should leave the internal market for goods, services and people, which had been so championed by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. 

By accepting that the “UK will be outside” and that there can be “no half-way house”, Theresa May has essentially caved in before the negotiations have begun.

At her meeting with May in July last year, the German Chancellor stated her ultimatum that there could be no “Rosinenpickerei” – the German equivalent of cherry picking. Merkel stated that Britain was not free to choose. That is still her position.

Back then, May was still battling for access to the internal market. It is a measure of how much her position has weakened that the Prime Minister has been forced to accept that Britain will have to leave the single market.

For those who have followed Merkel in her eleven years as German Kanzlerin there is sense of déjà vu about all this.  In negotiations over the Greek debt in 2011 and in 2015, as well as in her negotiations with German banks, in the wake of the global clash in 2008, Merkel played a waiting game; she let others reveal their hands first. The Germans even coined the word "merkeln", to describe the Chancellor’s favoured approach to negotiations.

Unlike other politicians, Frau Merkel is known for her careful analysis, behind-the-scene diplomacy and her determination to pursue German interests. All these are evident in the Brexit negotiations even before they have started.

Much has been made of US President-Elect Donald Trump’s offer to do a trade deal with Britain “very quickly” (as well as bad-mouthing Merkel). In the greater scheme of things, such a deal – should it come – will amount to very little. The UK’s exports to the EU were valued at £223.3bn in 2015 – roughly five times as much as our exports to the United States. 

But more importantly, Britain’s main export is services. It constitutes 79 per cent of the economy, according to the Office of National Statistics. Without access to the single market for services, and without free movement of skilled workers, the financial sector will have a strong incentive to move to the European mainland.

This is Germany’s gain. There is a general consensus that many banks are ready to move if Britain quits the single market, and Frankfurt is an obvious destination.

In an election year, this is welcome news for Merkel. That the British Prime Minister voluntarily gives up the access to the internal market is a boon for the German Chancellor and solves several of her problems. 

May’s acceptance that Britain will not be in the single market shows that no country is able to secure a better deal outside the EU. This will deter other countries from following the UK’s example. 

Moreover, securing a deal that will make Frankfurt the financial centre in Europe will give Merkel a political boost, and will take focus away from other issues such as immigration.

Despite the rise of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party, the largely proportional electoral system in Germany will all but guarantee that the current coalition government continues after the elections to the Bundestag in September.

Before the referendum in June last year, Brexiteers published a poster with the mildly xenophobic message "Halt ze German advance". By essentially caving in to Merkel’s demands before these have been expressly stated, Mrs May will strengthen Germany at Britain’s expense. 

Perhaps, the German word schadenfreude comes to mind?

Matthew Qvortrup is author of the book Angela Merkel: Europe’s Most Influential Leader published by Duckworth, and professor of applied political science at Coventry University.