Theresa May is making the same mistake that Syriza did

She is overestimating her leverage, and underestimating the EU's willingness to suffer economic damage. 

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Today's big story? A set of handwritten notes, snapped by an enterprising photographer, as Julia Dockerill, chief of staff to Conservative MP Mark Field, walked out of 9 Downing Street. The note appears to reveal much of the government’s strategy for negotiating Britain’s Brexit deal.

Among the revelations: ministers are “loath” to do a transitional deal for fear that the Civil Service will try to hold on it indefinitely. Their preferred plan? “Canada plus”, a trade deal similar to the EU-Canada deal, but with more provided for services, or as the note says to “have our cake and eat it”, as far as the benefits of EU membership are concerned, without the perceived downsides of reduced sovereignty and free movement of people. But the same notes warn that the negotiating team is “very French”, and that France is keen to shake Britain down in the talks.  “‘Have cake and eat it’ — aide reveals Brexit tactic” is the Times splash.

Not only that, but the note suggests that the government has ruled out single market membership, though, as I’ve written before, that was already clear from Theresa May’s public pronouncements.

Although the government has said the notes “do not reflect the government’s position”, they represent what you might call the “maximal” position for Britain: all the benefits, none of the drawbacks on EU membership.  (Missing in action from the notes: whether we’ll still keep paying into the EU after we leave, a subject on which the government has kept notably quiet.)

The sentence that deserves more attention than it has thus far received from those notes: the line that the EU27 “don’t want instability in Europe” and are “fearful of us [the UK] as competitor.” As with much of the notes, these are things that ministers are saying privately, but, let’s be clear: the EU27 are not fearful of a post-Brexit UK as a competitor on the world stage. As Mario Draghi noted yesterday, they are well aware that a hard Brexit will hurt both sides, but it will be Britain who comes off worse – “Brexit will impose heavier toll on UK than Eurozone, Draghi warns” is the FT’s splash.

What it all feels reminiscent of – and is worth recalling – is the run-up to the first collision between the then newly-installed Syriza government and the Eurozone. Syriza ministers wildly overestimated their leverage and underestimated the willingness of the EU’s leaders to suffer economic damage to maintain the political project. May’s ministers approach to Britain’s exit talks risk going the same way.

CARE CRISIS

Philip Hammond is coming under growing pressure from Conservative MPs to provide more support for the NHS and social care, Rowena Mason reports in the Guardian. Four Tory MPs have called for the Chancellor to act swiftly to tackle the problem.

GREEN ON GREEN

Richmond’s Greens have rounded on the party’s leader, Caroline Lucas, for endorsing the Liberal Democrat candidate, Sarah Olney, as she seeks to topple Zac Goldsmith in Thursday’s by-election. (The Greens have opted not to stand.) They say that the party should instead endorse Labour, who finished a distant third in 2015. The Liberal Democrats believe they have cut Goldsmith’s majority to 3 per cent, with the remaining Labour vote pivotal to the outcome. Jessica Elgot has the story.

TROUBLE AHEAD

The government is being advised to halt its planned rise in the minimum wage by the OECD, who believe it will lead to job losses if the rise goes ahead as planned.

ARTICLE 50 II: THE REVENGE

The government faces a second legal headache over the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU. British Influence is seeking a judicial review over whether or not a separate vote is required to trigger Article 127, which removes a nation from the EEA, a separate economic arrangement that was not subject to the referendum. The government argues that Britain’s membership of the EEA was entered into as part of the country’s EU membership, and should therefore be considered part and parcel of leaving the EU.

PUTTING THE BOOTLE IN

Paul Nuttall was elected Ukip’s latest leader yesterday, and vowed to target Labour in its safe seats in the North. The Sun lists the 20 Labour seats that Ukip believes are most vulnerable, which include that of Tristram Hunt, Jon Cruddas and Angela Rayner.

HOLLANDE’S LAST THROW

Francois Hollande has cut a deal with his Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, meaning that he will not face a challenge for his party’s nomination from within his government. According to the polls, Hollande is on course to receive a mere 8 per cent of the vote if he is the Socialist candidate next April.

GLAMIS, CAWDOR, KING THEREAFTER?

Ed Balls has refused to rule out a return to British politics in an exclusive interview with the Sun’s Ryan Kisiel.  “You never say never,” the former shadow chancellor said.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

Andrew Dickson explains why Britain’s addiction to period drama is driving away some of our best acting talent.

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Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics. He also co-hosts the New Statesman podcast.

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