Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Blairites don't really exist (Guardian)

The term is applied to politicians across the spectrum, but suits none of them – not even Tony Blair, says Steve Richards.

2. The pain of rebalancing global growth (Financial Times)

The IMF paints an encouraging picture – if nothing bad happens, writes Martin Wolf.

3. Ed Miliband could be the PM who leads us out of Europe (Daily Telegraph)

Labour needs a strategy to tackle growing English hostility to the Union and the EU, says Mary Riddell.

4. Help to Buy should be dubbed Help to Vote (Guardian)

George Osborne's crazy scheme is the latest in half a century of political bribery, writes Simon Jenkins. But Britons never question why home ownership should be subsidised.

5. Barack Obama and the Republican Party are engaged in an existential battle (Independent)

No winner can come out of this stalemate with their head held high, writes Andreas Whittam Smith. 

6. We need to drive bus fares down for the poor passenger (Times)

Buses are getting pricier while motoring costs have fallen, writes Will Straw.

7. Education in England: sliding down the class (Guardian)

The OECD report suggests that improving GCSE results and rising university enrolment may have been statistical mirages, says a Guardian editorial.

8. I’m afraid we’re just as sadistic as we feared (Times)

Pioneers of social psychology clearly proved our dark side, but now experiments need to be more robust, writes Daniel Finkelstein.

9. Labour should not be muzzling free speech (Daily Telegraph)

Neither Ed Miliband nor the state should be allowed to force their definition of 'decency' on a free press, argues Tom Harris.

10. To offshore or not to offshore? That is the question (Independent)

Some motor industry firms are scaling back offshore production, but 'onshoring' may not have the last laugh, says Hamish McRae.

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Leader: Labour and the Brexit debacle

The party appears to favour having its cake and eating it – yet the dilemma is not insuperable.

In the year since a narrow majority of people voted to leave the European Union, the Brexit project has not aged well. Theresa May’s appeal to the electorate to “strengthen” her hand in negotiations was humiliatingly rejected in the general election. Having repeatedly warned of a “coalition of chaos” encompassing ­Labour and the Scottish National Party, the Prime Minister has been forced to strike a panicked parliamentary deal with the Democratic Unionist Party. European leaders have been left bewildered by events in the United Kingdom.

The Brexiteers, who won the referendum on a fraudulent prospectus, have struggled to cope with the burden of responsibility. In the manner of Dr Pangloss, they maintain that the UK will flourish outside the EU and that those who suggest otherwise are too pessimistic, or even unpatriotic. Yet wishful thinking is not a strategy. Though the immediate recession forecast by the Treasury has been avoided, the cost of Brexit is already being borne in squeezed living standards (owing to the pound’s depreciation) and delayed investment decisions.

At the same time, far from disintegrating as the most ardent Leavers predicted, the EU is recovering, with a revival of the Franco-German axis under Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel. Donald Trump’s antics have dispelled the illusion that “the Anglosphere” can function as an alternative to the bloc. Britain has embarked on the great task of withdrawal at a time of profound national and global instability.

For all this, the Brexiteers retain an indisputable mandate. What the Brexiteers have no mandate for is their model of withdrawal. And there is a nascent majority in the House of Commons for a “soft” exit. Roughly two-thirds of voters remain supportive of Brexit but they have no desire to harm the economy in the process. A recent YouGov survey found that 58 per cent believe Britain should trade freely with the EU, even at the cost of continued free movement into Britain.

In these circumstances, Labour has profited from ambiguity. Jeremy Corbyn’s promise to uphold the referendum result and to end free movement won the respect of Leavers in the election. His pro-migration rhetoric and promise of a “jobs-first” Brexit impressed Remainers, who were in the mood to give the Tories a bloody nose. Although Labour fell 64 seats short of a majority, it partly spanned a divide that had been considered unbridgeable.

Mr Corbyn’s desire to avoid the cross-party Brexit commission proposed by some commentators and MPs is understandable. As Ed Smith observes on page 22, Brexit is a metaphorical “plague” that contaminates all those who touch it, claiming one Conservative prime minister and fatally infecting another. The Tories, who inflicted an unnecessary EU referendum on the UK, must not redistribute the blame.

As the Brexit negotiations progress, however, Labour cannot maintain its opacity. While vowing to retain “the benefits of the single market and the customs union”, it has also pledged to “end” freedom of movement. Like the risible ­Boris Johnson, Labour appears to favour having its cake and eating it. Yet the dilemma is not insuperable.

The logical extension of the party’s vow to give the economy priority over immigration control is to support continued single-market membership. This is the most practical and reliable means of ensuring that Britain’s dominant services sector retains the access it requires. Membership of the customs union would ensure the same for manufacturers. Economic retreat from the EU, which accounts for 44 per cent of all UK exports, would unavoidably reduce growth and living standards.

Such an arrangement need not entail continued free movement, however. Under existing EU rules (not applied by the UK), immigrants resident for longer than three months must prove that they are working (employed or self-employed) or a registered student, or have “sufficient resources” to support themselves and not be “a burden on the benefits system”.

It falls to Labour, as a reinvigorated and increasingly popular opposition, to chart an alternative to the ideological Brexiteers on the Tory benches as well as in the virulent right-wing press. Is Mr Corbyn a covert Brexiteer? It does not really matter. What matters is that he leads a party of committed Europeans who have no wish to see Britain humiliated, its influence in the world reduced, and its economy damaged by the folly of the Brexit debacle. 

This article first appeared in the 29 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit plague

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