Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The debt-ceiling doomsday device (Financial Times)

The ceiling is so dangerous because Obama could not obey it in a non-destructive way, writes Martin Wolf.

2. Britain doesn’t just need new homes, it needs whole new towns (Daily Telegraph)

Whoever looks like solving the housing crisis will probably win the next election, says Mary Riddell.

3. 'Plebgate’ threatens the reputation of the police (Daily Telegraph)

Andrew Mitchell's case must be reopened, says a Telegraph editorial.

4. Is Cameron insane? Leave foxhunting alone (Times)

The Tories should focus on the real challenges facing the countryside, including deep rural poverty, writes Alice Thomson.

5. An early EU referendum is so tempting – but Miliband must not be moved (Guardian)

Europe now poses a major dilemma for the Labour leader, writes Jackie Ashley. But to promise a referendum would result in a post-election defeat for him, and a UK exit.

6. Give a warm welcome to China, our new best friend (Independent)

The US dominance of the past century will soon be coming to an end, writes Hamish McRae.

7. Americans need to discover how the world sees them (Guardian)

There's little awareness of how the budget crisis has eroded US credibility, writes Timothy Garton Ash. It's time for a reverse Christopher Columbus.

8. Never empower people who hate freedom (Times)

Restrictions on free speech nearly always spread, becoming tools of the intolerant and the illiberal, says Daniel Finkelstein. 

9. Politics and security: a pressing need for action (Guardian)

The security services enjoy a degree of autonomy that exceeds what many MPs and ministers would judge appropriate, says a Guardian editorial.

10. Our leaders have always misled us about the EU (Independent)

Governments were intent on shielding voters from understanding how much sovereignty we had lost, writes Andreas Whittam Smith. 

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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.