EU’s simple message on Brexit deal: Like it or lump it

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There was plenty of distracting detail in this summit.

A spat about the word “nebulous” and a tense Juncker-May encounter played out for the cameras.

But in terms of substance? This summit added up to one simple message from the EU: The deal is the deal.

It is what it is.

Like it or lump it and accept the consequences.

May came here hoping to be thrown a bone – some diplomatic slack she could take home with her to persuade MPs to drag her deal across the line.

Video: Watch: May and Juncker face off in Brussels

There was, according to some reports, a draft conclusion agreed between the EU and the UK giving the PM some politically comforting words.

They would have included a promise to carry on working towards assurances on the agreement.

And there would be an acknowledgement that no one believes the use of the Irish border backstop is a “desirable outcome”.

But those lines, innocuous as they were, were ripped out, according to some reports because the Dutch, French and Belgians feared they would only encourage the Brexiteers to ask for more.

Video: May on ‘robust’ discussion with Juncker

Others claim the final conclusions were hardened because the prime minister did an appalling job persuading European leaders she had a plan to get them all out of the unholy mess they are all now in.

But whatever the details, the outcome of this summit remains the same.

The withdrawal agreement will not be renegotiated.

Work will go on towards seeking assurances about the backstop, but it will be cosmetic.

By day’s end there were warm words from Mr Juncker and the President of the European Council Donald Tusk.

At the closing press conference they paid tribute to the prime minister’s courage and said they remained at her disposal.

But they were sugaring the pill.

Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker at the summit in Brussels
Image: Mrs May and Jean-Claude Juncker at the summit in Brussels

Mrs May goes home with nothing substantial to show for her mad dash around Europe.

At some point soon probably next month, she may have to say: “I have run out of options, here is the deal, hold your noses and vote for it, or risk losing everything.”

That jeopardy will not be the same for everyone.

For Brexiteers the risk will be events moving towards a second referendum and Brexit never happening.

The rest will fear the clock running out and a “no-deal” Brexit happening by default.

EU leaders have used this summit deliberately to raise those stakes.

One source told The Times: “We want all parties and factions in the British parliament to feel the bleak mid-winter.”

In other words, Brussels is deliberately blowing a chill wind through Westminster hoping it will concentrate the minds of MPs and get them behind the deal or else.

Plenty for our politicians to mull over this Christmas.

More from UK

Enough to get enough of them behind the deal? Probably not.

The Northern Ireland backstop is fast becoming the most famous part of the Withdrawal Agreement - and for good reason. 1:04
Video: Backstop: What it is, and why it’s controversial

So the same question will continue to haunt us all through to the New Year: What then?

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