Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Memo to the Big Six: cut your prices now (Times)

If they don’t want to become as hated as bankers, energy companies must wise up to political reality, says Philip Collins. 

2. Harsh truths about the decline of Britain (Daily Telegraph)

All the indicators of progress are heading in the wrong direction, and time is running out, writes Jeremy Warner.

3. Welfare dependency isn't Britain's gravest economic problem. Pitiful pay is (Guardian)

If the government really wanted to cut its benefit bill, it would ensure that employers give their workers a living wage, says Polly Toynbee.

4. Hollande holds key to Merkel’s euro plan (Financial Times)

Germany believes the long-term future of the single currency rests with France link, writes Philip Stephens.

5. If I ruled the world – Tony Blair’s lessons in how best to govern (Independent)

How do politicians deliver the changes they have been elected to deliver, asks John Rentoul.

6. Iain Duncan Smith: faith and the facts (Guardian)

Duncan Smith's universal credit has been blessed, to an exceptional degree, with the benefit of the doubt – until now, says a Guardian editorial. 

7. George Osborne should halt the train journey no one wants to take (Daily Telegraph)

HS2 was an interesting idea at first, but it has proved to be an analogue solution for a digital age, argues Fraser Nelson.

8. UK’s energy chaos reflects a lack of focus (Financial Times)

We have an alphabet soup of policies creating unnecessary complexity, writes Paul Johnson.

9. Afghanistan? Iraq? Nope, Dick Cheney doesn’t believe in regrets (Independent)

You'll be hard pressed to find contrition in this apparent autobiography, says Peter Popham.

10. The Red Cross needs to reclaim its hijacked neutrality (Guardian)

As it turns 150, the ICRC must work to reassert its reputation – undermined by Blair's wars and political adventurism, writes Simon Jenkins.

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The SNP thinks it knows how to kill hard Brexit

The Supreme Court ruled MPs must have a say in triggering Article 50. But the opposition must unite to succeed. 

For a few minutes on Tuesday morning, the crowd in the Supreme Court listened as the verdict was read out. Parliament must have the right to authorise the triggering of Article 50. The devolved nations would not get a veto. 

There was a moment of silence. And then the opponents of hard Brexit hit the phones. 

For the Scottish government, the pro-Remain members of the Welsh Assembly and Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, the victory was bittersweet. 

The ruling prompted Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to ask: “Is it better that we take our future into our own hands?”

Ever the pragmatist, though, Sturgeon has simultaneously released her Westminster attack dogs. 

Within minutes of the ruling, the SNP had vowed to put forward 50 amendments (see what they did there) to UK government legislation before Article 50 is enacted. 

This includes the demand for a Brexit white paper – shared by MPs from all parties – to a clause designed to prevent the UK reverting to World Trade Organisation rules if a deal is not agreed. 

But with Labour planning to approve the triggering of Article 50, can the SNP cause havoc with the government’s plans, or will it simply be a chorus of disapproval in the rest of Parliament’s ear?

The SNP can expect some support. Individual SNP MPs have already successfully worked with Labour MPs on issues such as benefit cuts. Pro-Remain Labour backbenchers opposed to Article 50 will not rule out “holding hands with the devil to cross the bridge”, as one insider put it. The sole Green MP, Caroline Lucas, will consider backing SNP amendments she agrees with as well as tabling her own. 

But meanwhile, other opposition parties are seeking their own amendments. Jeremy Corbyn said Labour will seek amendments to stop the Conservatives turning the UK “into a bargain basement tax haven” and is demanding tariff-free access to the EU. 

Separately, the Liberal Democrats are seeking three main amendments – single market membership, rights for EU nationals and a referendum on the deal, which is a “red line”.

Meanwhile, pro-Remain Tory backbenchers are watching their leadership closely to decide how far to stray from the party line. 

But if the Article 50 ruling has woken Parliament up, the initial reaction has been chaotic rather than collaborative. Despite the Lib Dems’ position as the most UK-wide anti-Brexit voice, neither the SNP nor Labour managed to co-ordinate with them. 

Indeed, the Lib Dems look set to vote against Labour’s tariff-free amendment on the grounds it is not good enough, while expecting Labour to vote against their demand of membership of the single market. 

The question for all opposition parties is whether they can find enough amendments to agree on to force the government onto the defensive. Otherwise, this defeat for the government is hardly a defeat at all. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.