Morning Call: pick of the paper

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

1. Beijing's Play for Porn (IHT)

When it comes to pornography, the Chinese government is guilty of naked hypocrisy, writes Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore.

2. I've got a crush on the archbishope of Canterbury (Guardian)

Marina Hyde: It's not going to make me a believer or anything, but bravo to Justin Welby for taking a stand on Wonga and co.

3. Nate Silver, data guru returns to sport (FT) (£)

The political forecaster shows the new power of one-man brands, says Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson.

4. HS2, fracking and planning have given rise to mutiny in Middle England (Telegraph)

The demonstrations in Balcombe over drilling for oil and gas reserves are just the beginning, write Geoffrey Lean.

5. The cult of home ownership is dangerous and damaging (FT) (£)

The US and UK should ditch their obsessions with residential property, writes Adam Posen.

6. George Osborne's description of the economy is near-Orwellian (Guardian)

The fact that even Labour accepts the UK is 'on the mend' shows how low our expectations of economic performance are, reckons Ha-Joon Chang.

7. I was a self-hating child, so if it’s a choice between babies and my 100-year-old mother-in-law... (Independent)

The old make for far more stimulating company than the young, argues Howard Jacobson.

8. Holy Moolah. The Church really does save (Times) (£)

Archbishop Welby’s crusade against payday lenders is a very Christian solution to a problem afflicting the poor, says Janice Turner.

9. The hidden cost of paying for GP appointments (Independent)

Attempts to monetise the NHS have wilted in the past. It won't work here, says Jeremy Laurance.

10. We celebrate the Royal family because it symbolises our liberty (Telegraph)

The monarchy may reign over us, but it too is subject to the rule of ancient law, says Daniel Hannan.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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.