Is Britain sealing itself off?

British Prime Minister Theresa May promised more social justice at the Tory Party Conference. Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced plans to limit the number of work migrants taking jobs in the country. A hard Brexit would have far-reaching consequences for all Europe, observers fear.

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The Times (GB) /

Hard Brexit will scare off the Scots

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has threatened to seek a new referendum on independence in the event of a "hard Brexit". That puts British PM Theresa May in a tight spot, The Times comments:

“Her key demand for continued single market membership looks impossible for May to grant unless, as seems increasingly unlikely, the prime minister secures a one-size-fits-all soft Brexit for the UK. May has the power as prime minister not to authorise another Scottish referendum. But she is in a difficult position because of her vehement insistence that the result of the non-binding EU referendum, which brought her to power, must be honoured. How could she ignore the expressed will of the Scottish people?”

Le Figaro (FR) /

May leading an anti-liberal counter-revolution

In giving British politics an entirely new direction Theresa May bears certain similarities to her predecessor Margaret Thatcher, Le Figaro believes:

“Since July 13 Theresa May has been waging an anti-liberal counter-revolution. That could mark a new turning point for the developed countries in the direction of deglobalisation. Propelled quite unexpectedly into 10 Downing Street, May has neither the ideological coherence nor the firmness of the Iron Lady, who was such a dominant figure in the 1980s. Nevertheless she is breaking with the British consensus of the past 35 years. ... For Europe that marks the end of strategies based on balanced budgets and an economic order that took its inspiration from British liberalism, while at the same time regrettably bolstering populist tendencies.”

El País (ES) /

May must not discriminate against Europeans

As long as the UK is still a member of the EU the British government must adhere to EU law, El País insists:

“On the path to Brexit something far more valuable than EU membership is being left behind: the open, tolerant and integrating character of this country which had always been a model of multiracial and multiethnic coexistence. … There are more than solid reasons for the members of the EU to steadfastly oppose these measures. The United Kingdom is still a member of the EU and everyone who lives in it, including foreigners from within or outside the EU, are beneficiaries of the rights and guarantees established in the European treaties, including protection against discrimination.”

Daily Mail (GB) /

No need to fear a hard Brexit

The example of Canada shows that a country can engage in free trade with the EU and still control immigration, the Daily Mail contends:

“Leave aside the fact that the countless Chinese products in our stores and homes demonstrate that a country doesn’t have to be a member of the single market to sell billions of pounds’ worth of goods to it: what Britain will aim to negotiate with the EU is some sort of zero-tariff free trade deal. Canada and the EU have recently done so - and it will not result in that Commonwealth country either paying into the EU budget or accepting free movement of citizens between it and those 28 (soon to be 27) member states. This is what it means - to quote Mrs May’s Birmingham speech - to be a ‘sovereign and independent nation’.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

Choking the British economy

The announcement that foreign citizens' access to jobs in Britain will be restricted represents a threat to the country's economy, the Irish Times warns:

“There are no indications that May’s government has the first clue what to do. Britain’s economic success is based on its openness to trade and commerce, and to an inflow of skilled labour to the City in particular. This lifeblood of the liberal economic model is to be cut off, or at least that is this week’s story. Threatening to limit access to foreign citizens to work in Britain adds another huge layer of uncertainty and risk for thousands of businesses. Companies in sectors from technology to pharma to finance rely on attracting the best, whatever their nationality.”

Financial Times (GB) /

Brexit a chance for economic reorientation

The exit from the EU could be a salutary shock for the British economy, the Financial Times counters:

“In the case of Germany and Japan, this point was wartime defeat that allowed both countries to reinvent themselves. Brexit could do the same in the UK. This is why a dual strategy of a hard Brexit and a shift in the nature of British capitalism is intriguing. The first constitutes the shock, the second the shift. ... The City will not perish in this scenario. It might even do well with new fintech type business models, or as a deregulated financial centre, Singapore-style. But its relative weight within the British economy may well decline.”

Le Soir (BE) /

European democracy crumbling on all sides

The Tories' new stance is further proof that democracy is on the wane in Europe, Le Soir comments:

“The xenophobia championed by Viktor Orbán and Nigel Farage is now the official policy of the UK, a country that owes its current prosperity - which could be better distributed, granted - to foreign workers and business. ... Is it Britain's symbolic exit from the EU in advance of its legal separation that has caused the embankments to crumble? Or is this just the proof that the UK had no business in our Union in the first place? The European Union is incapable of meeting the challenges at hand or defending its own democracy. More and more it resembles the UN, an eternally powerless observer of genocide such as the one now taking place in Syria. European democracy is not just under threat - it is already foundering. Will we continue to look on idly?”

ABC (ES) /

May should be more cautious in talks with EU

Theresa May will do great harm to her country if she takes a sledgehammer approach to the Brexit, ABC warns:

“There are, after all, 16.1 million British citizens who want to stay in Europe. There are two approaches to managing such a close result which has divided society and exacerbated the problem of Scottish separatism: either you seek to maintain a broad agreement with the EU, modelled on that of Norway or Switzerland, or you opt for a drastic break which leaves the country without access to the single market. The British government seems to have chosen the second approach, or at least this is what May appeared to indicate at the Conservative Party conference. … Let us hope her nationalist populism of recent days was aimed at the militants within her own party and that in the negotiations with the EU realism will prevail. The United Kingdom is a great country, but it would be ill advised to continue dreaming of splendid isolation because it won't be able to finance it without hurting its citizens.”

La Vanguardia (ES) /

Tory leader fishing for votes

The prime minister is fishing for votes - mainly on the right but also on the left, La Vanguardia observes:

“In her first significant speech since moving into 10 Downing Street the Tory leader addressed above all her party's right wing and the voters of xenophobic Ukip, but she didn't neglect the left wing either when she tried to contest Labour's role as defender of the social welfare state. … Theresa May has not only opted to walk resolutely towards disconnection from Europe - during the campaign she was not yet a fierce defender of Brexit - but she is now trying to extend her voter base towards the right and centre with a discourse full of nationalist tones and according to the motto of a 'global Great Britain' for the British.”

Les Echos (FR) /

Protectionism, not liberalism

Theresa May has said goodbye to basic Conservative values, Les Echos complains:

“She wants to address the 'ordinary workers' and is clearly emphasising questions having to do with migration. In so doing she wants to copy both from Labour and the Ukip populists, who are in the throes of existential crises. She embodies a tradition which has the wind in its sails in many places - including France: that of protectionism and interventionism. A small revolution for the Conservatives, who are now shedding their liberal garments. ... When Theresa May's ministers praise state aid or call on British firms to list their foreign workers, you'd think it were [left-leaning former economy minister] Arnaud Montebourg or [Front National leader] Marine Le Pen speaking. The City built up its fortune by being open to the world. It has a lot to lose if it now seals itself off.”

The Daily Telegraph (GB) /

Britain in the post-truth era

The prime minister was wrong to encourage the mistaken view of many Brits that immigrants steal jobs from local residents, the Daily Telegraph criticises:

“She told people who simply suspect and fear - based on sentiment, not fact - that they or others are poorer or out of work because of immigration that they are right. Her essential message: your feelings matter more than the facts. ... Ignore such things, she was saying. Listen to your feelings. If you’re worried and angry about immigration, you are right. Not only that, your feelings are the proof that you are right. If this all sounds familiar from politics elsewhere today, it should. Because in her remarks on immigration and employment today, Mrs May was employing the post-truth politics of Donald Trump.”

Frankfurter Rundschau (DE) /

May can heal rifts in society

Theresa May was able to unite the Conservative Party behind her at the party conference but she must go further, the Frankfurter Rundschau comments:

“The party rank and file sympathise with her as they never did with her chilly predecessor. That also has to do with the fact that May, who always argued cautiously in favour of remaining in the EU, has now managed to narrow the gap between her and the anti-EU members. ... May is certainly right in thinking that the narrow margin in favour of Brexit was not only directed against Brussels. Millions of Brits feel left in the lurch above all by the liberal London elite. More investment in the neglected regions of England won't change this overnight. But it is a necessary step towards healing the rifts in society.”