ANALYSIS: Theresa May denies reality by insisting something has changed

Posted On: 
14th December 2018

When the most interesting thing about a summit is the context in which someone used the word "nebulous", you know it hasn't been a classic.

Theresa May insists the EU Council was a success.
Credit: 
PA Images

This was supposed to be The One Where Theresa May Got The Assurances She Wanted.

But despite her rather ironic claims to the contrary, the reality is that after spending a day and a half in Brussels, nothing has changed for the Prime Minister.

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She will return to London, if not quite empty-handed, then certainly not laden down with the promises she needs to assauge her rebellious MPs.

And yet it could all have been so different. According to The Times' legendary Brussels reporter Bruno Waterfield, British negotiators had agreed a deal with their European counterparts that the EU Council protocol would provide "political comfort" for May, who desperately needs some concessions on the Irish backstop to stand any chance of getting her Brexit deal through the Commons.

The reality, however, was very different. In a humiliating rebuff, the other 27 EU leaders decided to rip up that deal and, if anything, harden their stance. There would be no "legal and political assurances" for the PM to chalk up as a win. 

The Prime Minister's spat with Jean-Claude Juncker was a useful distraction as we waited for May's press conference to eventually start. How would she react to the EU's dismissal of her concerns, we wondered. The answer was to pretend it never happened.

"I note that there has been reporting that the EU is not willing to consider any further clarification," Mrs May said. "The EU is clear as I am that if we are going to leave with a deal this is it.

"But my discussions with colleagues today have shown that further clarification and discussion following the council’s conclusions is in fact possible."

That may well be the case, but with barely a month to go (including a two-week shutdown for Christmas and New Year) until she finally puts her deal to the Commons, the Prime Minister needs much more than warm words to sell it to her troops. 

Theresa May may wish to argue that her plan is coming together, but after her latest jaunt to Brussels, it does appear as though nothing has changed.