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Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. We appeased Putin before - why confront him now? (Daily Telegraph)

The deaths in Ukraine are tiny when set against the Russian president’s past crimes, writes Peter Oborne. 

2. Can the rest of Britain compete with London? (Times)

The world economy is changing radically but the British state is largely unreformed, trapped in a different timezone, writes Tim Montgomerie. 

3. Punishing London’s oligarchs is not enough (Financial Times)

The most punitive financial sanction would be to target state-controlled Russian banks, writes John Gapper. 

4. White face, blue collar, grey hair: the 'left behind' voters only Ukip understands (Guardian)

Farage's core voters are not EU-obsessed Tories, but working-class men, write Matthew Goodwin and Robert Ford. Labour cannot afford to ignore their real concerns.

5. The hypocrisy of the great powers is on display again in Ukraine (Independent)

We should look in the mirror before condemning Russian expansionism, says Owen Jones. 

6. What a hypocrite Red Ed will be if he takes cash from the tainted pockets of tyrants' pal Tony (Daily Mail)

Self-interest, as well as principle, demand that Miliband shouldn’t seek a donation from Blair, says Stephen Glover.

7. If you’ve got a bear by the assets, it’s in trouble (Times)

Don’t listen to those trying to justify Russia’s actions, writes David Aaronovitch. mWe should respond to this military intervention with sanctions. 

8. The clash in Crimea is the fruit of western expansion (Guardian)

The external struggle to dominate Ukraine has put fascists in power and brought the country to the brink of conflict, writes Seumas Milne. 

9. Cameron's caught between a Rock and a hard place (Daily Telegraph)

The arrest of Cameron aide Patrick Rock is further proof that an over-reliance on a tight-knit group of old chums is damaging the Prime Minister’s status, says Sue Cameron. 

10. The British economy: rate relief (Guardian)

Given the scale of the calamity that hit the economy in 2008, worklessness has been nothing like as bad as we had any right to expect, notes a Guardian editorial.

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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.