Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. How to make recidivism and costs rise? Privatise probation (Guardian)

Four big firms are set to get even richer, writes Zoe Williams. We will be paying much more for the service, and failures are inevitable.

2. Ministers are still treating the Commonwealth with contempt (Daily Telegraph)

Foreign Secretary William Hague vowed to put the 'C back into the FCO’ – but things are as bad as ever, says Peter Oborne.

3. Political consensus isn’t always virtuous (Times)

The right has been vindicated on energy taxes, Europe and government debt, argues Tim Montgomerie. It deserves more respect.

4. Carney is wise to nurture the City (Financial Times)

But will take a lot of international negotiations to agree on any new bank resolution regime, writes John Gapper. 

5. What poppies, Prince George and the NSA tell us about freedom (Guardian)

While Edward Snowden revealed an over-mighty state, there are other symptoms, writes Martin Kettle. In Britain, democracy has some way to go.

6. Work should pay — and workfare should as well (Times)

Compulsory schemes should pay the minimum wage, says Ross Clark. This scheme has too much stick and too little carrot.

7. As the News of the World trial begins... Yesterday bankers were accused of rigging currency rates. So why aren't they in the dock? (Daily Mail)

The authorities — politicians, police and probably judges — favour bankers over journalists, says Stephen Glover. 

8. The Lone Star state is America’s rising star (Times)

Forget the deadlocked political elite in DC – culturally diverse, booming Texas is the true face of the US, says Michael Burleigh. 

9. End west’s deference to petrodollars (Financial Times)

There is no doubting Riyadh’s horror at the sudden prospect of US-Iranian detente, writes David Gardner. 

10. A tricky question for 'the great persuader’, Tony Blair (Daily Telegraph)

Tony Blair has plenty of advice for others, but how did he set about getting things done when prime minister, asks Sue Cameron.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The three avoidable mistakes that Theresa May has made in the Brexit negotiations

She ignored the official Leave campaign, and many Remainers, in pursuing Brexit in the way she has.

We shouldn’t have triggered Article 50 at all before agreeing an exit deal

When John Kerr, the British diplomat who drafted Article 50 wrote it, he believed it would only be used by “a dictatorial regime” that, having had its right to vote on EU decisions suspended “would then, in high dudgeon, want to storm out”.

The process was designed to maximise the leverage of the remaining members of the bloc and disadvantage the departing state. At one stage, it was envisaged that any country not ratifying the Lisbon Treaty would be expelled under the process – Article 50 is not intended to get “the best Brexit deal” or anything like it.

Contrary to Theresa May’s expectation that she would be able to talk to individual member states, Article 50 is designed to ensure that agreement is reached “de vous, chez vous, mais sans vous” – “about you, in your own home, but without you”, as I wrote before the referendum result.

There is absolutely no reason for a departing nation to use Article 50 before agreement has largely been reached. A full member of the European Union obviously has more leverage than one that is two years away from falling out without a deal. There is no reason to trigger Article 50 until you’re good and ready, and the United Kingdom’s negotiating team is clearly very far from either being “good” or “ready”.

As Dominic Cummings, formerly of Vote Leave, said during the campaign: “No one in their right mind would begin a legally defined two-year maximum period to conduct negotiations before they actually knew, roughly speaking, what the process was going to yield…that would be like putting a gun in your mouth and pulling the trigger.”

If we were going to trigger Article 50, we shouldn’t have triggered it when we did

As I wrote before Theresa May triggered Article 50 in March, 2017 is very probably the worst year you could pick to start leaving the European Union. Elections across member states meant the bloc was in a state of flux, and those elections were always going to eat into the time. 

May has got lucky in that the French elections didn’t result in a tricky “co-habitation” between a president of one party and a legislature dominated by another, as Emmanuel Macron won the presidency and a majority for his new party, République en Marche.

It also looks likely that Angela Merkel will clearly win the German elections, meaning that there won’t be a prolonged absence of the German government after the vote in September.

But if the British government was determined to put the gun in its own mouth and pull the trigger, it should have waited until after the German elections to do so.

The government should have made a unilateral offer on the rights of EU citizens living in the United Kingdom right away

The rights of the three million people from the European Union in the United Kingdom were a political sweet spot for Britain. We don’t have the ability to enforce a cut-off date until we leave the European Union, it wouldn’t be right to uproot three million people who have made their lives here, there is no political will to do so – more than 80 per cent of the public and a majority of MPs of all parties want to guarantee the rights of EU citizens – and as a result there is no plausible leverage to be had by suggesting we wouldn’t protect their rights.

If May had, the day she became PM, made a unilateral guarantee and brought forward legislation guaranteeing these rights, it would have bought Britain considerable goodwill – as opposed to the exercise of fictional leverage.

Although Britain’s refusal to accept the EU’s proposal on mutually shared rights has worried many EU citizens, the reality is that, because British public opinion – and the mood among MPs – is so sharply in favour of their right to remain, no one buys that the government won’t do it. So it doesn’t buy any leverage – while an early guarantee in July of last year would have bought Britain credit.

But at least the government hasn’t behaved foolishly about money

Despite the pressure on wages caused by the fall in the value of the pound and the slowdown in growth, the United Kingdom is still a large and growing economy that is perfectly well-placed to buy the access it needs to the single market, provided that it doesn’t throw its toys out of the pram over paying for its pre-agreed liabilities, and continuing to pay for the parts of EU membership Britain wants to retain, such as cross-border policing activity and research.

So there’s that at least.

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

0800 7318496