Tom Goodenough

What the papers say: A customs union is the least worst Brexit option

What the papers say: A customs union is the least worst Brexit option
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Theresa May has been condemned for her failure to stick up for the NHS during her conversation with Donald Trump last night. The criticism comes after Trump tweeted to say Britain’s National Health Service was ‘going broke and not working’. But while we can be rightly proud of the NHS, we shouldn’t be blind to its problems, says the Daily Telegraph. Politicians have queued up to defend the institution and talk of ‘how much they love it’. ‘Only in Britain is it necessary to fetishise the way we deliver health care’, argues the Telegraph. Nigel Farage is right then to say that the ‘NHS is the nearest thing we have to a national religion’, and this thought goes some way to explain why Trump’s criticism is being treated as a ‘heresy’. Yet whether we like it or not, Trump is, at least party, right: ‘the NHS is going broke, or at least it does not have enough money to function properly – something even most of the Cabinet seems to agree on’. What's more, parts of the NHS ‘(are) not working either, or not as well as it should’. The Telegraph does say that Trump ‘was wrong to single out the NHS as though it is a unique example of a universal health service’; and the American system of healthcare, which ‘leaves so many people out in the cold’, is far from perfect. But we would all be better off, and the NHS would ‘work better’ too, if we were prepared to learn a thing or two from other systems around the world – and also actually listen to criticism. Refusing to do so and 'pretending that it is a world-beating system…is an act of wilful national denial,’ concludes the Telegraph.

Today, the Cabinet’s Brexit subcommittee meets to try and thrash out agreement on  the government’s Brexit blueprint. Don’t expect any firm progress by the end of the week, a government official has told Bloomberg. Yet it is high time for some much-needed development. The Times says that May’s ‘failure to explain how it will avoid a hard border in Ireland may yet derail Brexit talks’. The ‘fudge’ on the question of the Irish border ‘is disintegrating’ quickly. But there is a way out: a customs deal with the EU could help Britain avoid a ‘hard border’, suggests the Times. Brexiteers are right to point out that this solution would mean Britain would have its hands tied if it wanted to negotiate trade deals with other countries. But it is time to ask a question in response to this answer: ‘is (there) any realistic prospect (that),,,striking such deals would offset and exceed the possible loss of trade with the EU’? The Times is sceptical that it would. So while May might resent incurring ‘the wrath of  Eurosceptics, inside and outside the cabinet, who would complain that she was steering the country towards a Brexit “in name only”’, it might be time to opt for a customs union with the EU. If they don't like it, the PM should remind unhappy leavers ‘they have already won the battle that matters most. Britain is leaving the EU’, concludes the paper.

The Guardian meanwhile is sceptical that this week’s Brexit ‘war’ cabinet meetings will actually result in much progress. The Prime Minister’s response to the warring factions in her party thus far has been to ‘drift’, the paper points out. Yet now ‘May must steel herself to offend both extremes’ and appreciate that she ‘cannot go on ducking the decision’. A customs union with the EU would provide an answer on the Irish border question, agrees the Guardian. It would, too, help to maintain trade with our near neighbours. Slowly, ministers are realising that the alternative – 'maintaining trade with the EU outside the customs union is a dauntingly complex affair’. What’s more, argues the Guardian, ‘millions of voters…simply want Brexit to happen’ and care little for ‘arcane and irrelevant’ talk about prospective trade deals Britain might strike with other countries. In light of this, a customs union might be the least worst outcome.

Meanwhile, the Sun takes a pop at Labour over its celebration of the 100th anniversary of female suffrage. ‘It is jaw-dropping’ for Labour to use this occasion to ‘attack’ the Tories, argues the paper, which points out that the party ‘has never elected a woman leader’ and is now ‘run by militant old men’. The paper goes on to refer to a litany of problematic stories involving the Labour party, including the need for Laura Kuenssberg to have a minder at their annual conference in Brighton. Perhaps Labour needs to get its own house in order before throwing stones. After all, the Tories are the party that actually ‘gave women the vote and later made two Prime Minister.’ In light of this, Theresa May should stand firm and assure herself that ‘she has nothing to learn about women’s rights from Corbyn or the partisan dimwits on his front bench.’.