Europe Insists Brexit Deal Won't Be Renegotiated As May Hopes To 'Run Out The Clock'

Update: ITV's Robert Peston has raised a good question about the ongoing Brexit negotiations:

Our best guess: More political theater to show restive MPs that she's doing 'everything she can' to win 'the best possible deal'.

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The apprehension that gripped cable on Monday has faded, sparking a modest recovery in the pound on Tuesday as Theresa May embarks on her "dash to Brussels" - a whirlwind tour of European capitals where the prime minister is expected to meet with a bevy of bureaucrats and elected leaders to try and win assurances that - at the very least - the Brexit withdrawal agreement could be modified to include "assurances" that entering into the controversial "Irish backstop" would require approval from Parliament.

But - so far, at least - European leaders are standing firm regarding their insistence that the deal on the table is the 'best possible deal' and won't be open to renegotiation.

According to the Telegraph, Jean-Claude Juncker assured MEPs in Strasbourg that the 'finalized' deal currently on the table is "the only deal possible" and ruled out making changes - though he added that there would be room for "further clarifications" and "further interpretations" of the deal (though many believe this wouldn't be enough to win over EU votes).

Here's more from the Telegraph:

MEPs applauded as Mr Juncker said: "There is no room whatsoever for renegotiation, but of course there is room if used intelligently, there is room enough to give further clarifications and further interpretations without opening the Withdrawal Agreement."

"This will not happen: everyone has to note that the Withdrawal Agreement will not be reopened."

The offer of "further clarifications" on the backstop issue is unlikely to be enough to win over sceptical Brexiteer MPs who want the Irish border protocol removed from the Withdrawal Agreement.

Mr Juncker said the Irish backstop was the "big problem" and explained: "We have a common determination to do everything to be not in the situation one day to use that backstop."

"But we have to prepare: it's necessary for the entire coherence of what we have agreed with Britain and it is necessary for Ireland. Ireland will never be left alone."

Meanwhile, May met with Dutch PM Mark Rutte in the Hague for talks that Rutte described as "useful"...

... and is expected to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin and European Council President Donald Tusk in Brussels before heading back to London for a Wednesday cabinet meeting (notably, Paris isn't on the list of European capitals that May is expected to visit).

May has also scheduled a meeting with Juncker:

Back in Westminster, May's refusal to commit to a timeline for a vote is inspiring speculation that she plans to "run out the clock" to force MPs into backing her deal by effectively leaving them two options: Her deal, or no deal. Parliament leaves for a holiday recess on Dec. 20, and won't return until Jan. 7.

Even if the EU relents and reopens the deal, May doesn't expect material changes to be made. Her new strategy was perhaps best summarized by an anonymous cabinet source during an interview with a Bloomberg reporter.

A Cabinet ally of May’s, speaking on condition of anonymity, put the prime minister’s strategy more charitably, saying that if the deal can’t go through then the only option is to keep talking -  to EU leaders, in the hope they might offer something more, and to lawmakers, in the hope they might ask a little less.

One anonymous "cabinet source" told the BBC that May and her senior ministers would discuss "preparations for no deal" during tomorrow's cabinet meeting (the meeting was moved from Tuesday to allow May some time to try and 'handbag' the EU). While May and her time have long prioritized contingency planning for a worst-case scenario, the BBC's source said this would now take on a "special urgency."

Putting to rest speculation that a vote could be postponed until late January or early February (or perhaps even later) a government source told reporters that a vote on May's deal would be held no later than Jan. 21, two weeks after MPs return from their holiday recess.

Few Wall Street analysts are willing to accept that a "no deal" outcome is a serious possibility. However, they unwittingly offered some support for May's "Project Fear" by releasing forecasts that were nothing short of apocalyptic.

Richard Turnill, global chief investment strategist at BlackRock, said that, while he doesn't expect a 'no deal' exit, the downside for UK stocks could be massive - as much as 30% from current levels.

Others, including MUFG's Lee Hardman, embraced May's plan to "run out the clock", according to the Financial Times.

"The longer it takes to put the deal back to parliament, the more pressure will be applied on MPs to accept the deal given the looming risk of a "No Deal" outcome. The Brexit stand-off at this late stage of negotiations is clearly unwelcome for the pound. At the same time though the likelihood of a second referendum and alternative softer Brexit deals being adopted is also rising, so it’s not all bad news for the pound," said Lee Hardman, currency analyst at MUFG.

Perhaps the most amusing take came from Deutsche Bank's Jim Reid, who contrasted the UK's fraught Brexit negotiations with the news that the US's Voyager 2 probe had finally left our galaxy and made it to interstellar space (the probe was launched back in the 1970s), noting that "it seems easier to leave the galaxy than the EU."

With today’s long anticipated vote now postponed, it takes an intergalactic sized mind to work out the end game from here. Feel free to tell me if you have one.

If there is one silver lining from this week's Brexit chaos, it's that Labour is apparently backing down from its threats to try and force a general election by calling a no confidence vote in the government. Leader Jeremy Corbyn has reportedly tabled this plan for now, though leaders of the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party have reportedly written to urge him to reconsider.

Meanwhile, one Labour MP's decision to hoist Parliament's ceremonial Mace - reportedly an act of protest - has apparently backfired and served as a convenient distraction for May.

Video of that spectacle can be found below.