Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The US supreme court thinks racism is dead. It isn't (Guardian)

Judges gutted an act to protect black voters, saying it was out of date – but there are salient illustrations of their folly, writes Gary Younge. 

2. Miliband is taking his cue from loser Kinnock, not winner Blair (Daily Telegraph)

The Labour leader is doomed to fail because he offers nothing that raises a nation’s hopes, writes Boris Johnson.

3. What's killing Labour? A thousand failures to oppose the cuts (Independent)

The party has not so much missed open goals as fled in the opposite direction, says Owen Jones.

4. By the time HS2 arrives, we’ll no longer need it (Times)

The march of communications means we are gambling £40bn on a project that by 2032 will seem prehistoric, writes Tim Montgomerie.

5. The EU vote: this is a blue referendum (Guardian)

Cameron's meddling will deny us all the chance to vote on the European Union, in spite of cross-party support, says John Mills.

6. The Governor will need the Goldilocks touch (Times)

Carney must harness the goodwill on all sides to keep the economy at the right temperature, says John Redwood.

7. Labour and the unions: battle of Falkirk (Guardian)

Candidate selection can be a fraught business in all parties, even when the process is impeccably democratic, notes a Guardian editorial.

8. Press must withdraw from panto stitch-up (Sun)

What seemed like the chance of a lifetime has turned into a blight on Leveson's seemingly unstoppable climb to the pinnacle of his profession, writes Trevor Kavanagh. 

9. Britain’s problems with a veto on Syria go right back to Yalta (Independent)

It was then that the 'big five' were granted such power, writes Robert Fisk.

10. Obama’s Africa trip is too little, too late (Financial Times)

China-Africa trade is now twice the level of US-Africa trade, writes Edward Luce.

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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.