Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Does the Tory party actually want to win the next election? (Observer)

An 'alternative Queen's speech' by rightwingers illustrates David Cameron's enduring problems with his MPs, argues Andrew Rawnsley.

2. With Middle Eastern moderates like these, who needs extremists? (Sunday Times) (£)

In relation to the Iranian elections, he word of the week is “moderate”, says Dominic Lawson.

3. Recovery means... dumping Labour policies (Independent on Sunday)

Protected by the amulet of Saint Clem, Ed Miliband could go on to bury John Maynard Keynes, says John Rentoul.

4. George Osborne's spending review should focus on boosting growth and living standards (Sunday Mirror)

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls explains how growth now would head off deeper cuts in 2015.

5. You may laugh at 'Jeffrey’, but he’s won the argument (Sunday Telegraph)

George Osborne has defined the rules of the game and the terms of the debate, writes Matthew d'Ancona.

6. Blame austerity, not old people, for the plight of Britain's young (Observer)

We have to refashion our economic model so that it works for everyone – particularly the young, says Will Hutton.

7. It’s dangerous to ignore the bridesmaids, PM (Sunday Times) (£)

No 10's female staff are treated more like admirers than advisers, writes Adam Boulton.

8. A little interference is a wonderful thing (Independent on Sunday)

The Government's sudden desire to make new rules and enforce old ones is overdue, writes D J Taylor.

9. Scotland's an enlightened country – unless you're female (Observer)

Scotland beats England in its compassionate ways. Just a shame about the misogyny, writes Kevin McKenna.

10. Back together: me, Fatboy Slim and the rest of the Upwardly Mobile Gang (Sunday Times) (£)

I became a grammar-school boy — and it will never leave me, says Andrew Sullivan.

 

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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.