Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. If an Arab Winter comes, we will all shiver (Times)

Neither side in Cairo’s bloody violence understands democracy, says David Aaronovitch. Their failure is likely to spill over national borders.

2. Tories heading for victory? Don’t you believe it (Independent)

The economy will still be fragile by 2015, and Labour have cards to play, writes Steve Richards. 

3. Cairo massacre: After today, what Muslim will ever trust the ballot box again? (Independent)

This marks a tragic turning point, from which it will take Egypt years to recover, writes Robert Fisk. 

4. Have the austerians won, or will pragmatists prevail? (Daily Telegraph)

Economics pretends to be an evidence-based science, but it’s really about warring sects, writes Jeremy Warner.

5. The heat is still on Hollande (Financial Times)

To hope ‘something will turn up’ to boost exports is not an elegant posture, says Howard Davies.

6. Bad economic news for Europe is good news for Merkel and Cameron (Guardian)

These figures are proof not of a European recovery, but of the right's ability to exploit grim times in a way that eludes the left, writes Martin Kettle.

7. China is key to saving endangered species (Financial Times)

Cracking down on the illicit animal trade would help Beijing to boost its soft power, writes David Pilling.

8. Fracking v renewables? This is dumb electioneering dressed up as policy (Guardian)

Britain's energy future, an issue fraught with complexity, is presented as a mere binary choice, writes Zoe Williams.

9. Why does the BBC sneer about Britain's recovery but go crazy if Euroland's corpse so much as twitches? (Daily Mail)

The BBC may be unable to see it, but the British economy appears at last to be stirring into action, writes Stephen Glover. 

10. Britain’s foreign legion of missing voters (Daily Telegraph)

The search is on for five million expats whose ballots could be vital in a close contest, writes Sue Cameron. 

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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.