Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Enough of playing Hamlet: Obama needs to act now (Guardian)

The indecisive US president has shown that he is as torn as the rest of us over intervention in Syria, writes Jonathan Freedland. But his credibility is at stake.

2. Not even IDS faced the venom confronting Ed Miliband (Daily Telegraph)

Labour’s leader may be reviled, but David Cameron’s arrogance is to blame for the botched Syria vote, says Mary Riddell. 

3. Syria is following Afghanistan’s path (Financial Times)

While international engagement is ever less popular, it is increasingly necessary, writes David Miliband.

4. ‘Lessons from Iraq’ are not lessons at all (Times)

When it comes to Syria we cannot look back to 2003 and be certain what the endgame should be, writes Daniel Finkelstein.

5. Two quarters of growth don't mean George Osborne's policy has worked (Guardian)

Talk of an economic recovery rings hollow to ordinary families in Britain, who are still seeing their living standards fall, says Ed Balls.

6. Export obsession is crushing Germany (Financial Times)

The country’s recent success has been based on cutting wages, writes Adam Posen.

7. Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange: our new heroes (Guardian)

As the NSA revelations have shown, whistleblowing is now an essential art, writes Slavoj Žižek. It is our means of keeping 'public reason' alive.

8. 'Scotland versus Salmond' could be the way to win (Daily Telegraph)

The SNP's programme shows the First Minister's focus on independence ignores his country's problems, writes Alan Cochrane. 

9. Here’s how a ‘good’ bank could operate (Independent)

The near-bankruptcy of the Co-op bank is an awful warning of what can go wrong, writes Andreas Whittam Smith. 

10. Merkel may not be the friend Cameron thinks (Times)

The German leader is sure to be re-elected but Britain cannot count on her, says Roger Boyes.

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Theresa May's "clean Brexit" is hard Brexit with better PR

The Prime Minister's objectives point to the hardest of exits from the European Union. 

Theresa May will outline her approach to Britain’s Brexit deal in a much-hyped speech later today, with a 12-point plan for Brexit.

The headlines: her vow that Britain will not be “half in, half out” and border control will come before our membership of the single market.

And the PM will unveil a new flavour of Brexit: not hard, not soft, but “clean” aka hard but with better PR.

“Britain's clean break from EU” is the i’s splash, “My 12-point plan for Brexit” is the Telegraph’s, “We Will Get Clean Break From EU” cheers the Express, “Theresa’s New Free Britain” roars the Mail, “May: We’ll Go It Alone With CLEAN Brexit” is the Metro’s take. The Guardian goes for the somewhat more subdued “May rules out UK staying in single market” as their splash while the Sun opts for “Great Brexpectations”.

You might, at this point, be grappling with a sense of déjà vu. May’s new approach to the Brexit talks is pretty much what you’d expect from what she’s said since getting the keys to Downing Street, as I wrote back in October. Neither of her stated red lines, on border control or freeing British law from the European Court of Justice, can be met without taking Britain out of the single market aka a hard Brexit in old money.

What is new is the language on the customs union, the only area where May has actually been sparing on detail. The speech will make it clear that after Brexit, Britain will want to strike its own trade deals, which means that either an unlikely exemption will be carved out, or, more likely, that the United Kingdom will be out of the European Union, the single market and the customs union.

(As an aside, another good steer about the customs union can be found in today’s row between Boris Johnson and the other foreign ministers of the EU27. He is under fire for vetoing an EU statement in support of a two-state solution, reputedly to curry favour with Donald Trump. It would be strange if Downing Street was shredding decades of British policy on the Middle East to appease the President-Elect if we weren’t going to leave the customs union in order at the end of it.)

But what really matters isn’t what May says today but what happens around Europe over the next few months. Donald Trump’s attacks on the EU and Nato yesterday will increase the incentive on the part of the EU27 to put securing the political project front-and-centre in the Brexit talks, making a good deal for Britain significantly less likely.

Add that to the unforced errors on the part of the British government, like Amber Rudd’s wheeze to compile lists of foreign workers, and the diplomatic situation is not what you would wish to secure the best Brexit deal, to put it mildly.

Clean Brexit? Nah. It’s going to get messy. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.