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Light at end of the tunnel? It feels more like the never-ending story

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Lights, music and the EU-summit version of action: Theresa May left for Strasbourg yesterday with a wintry chill over Westminster about the chances of anything much occurring. By late evening, when the Prime Minister and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker emerged to scowl in unison, something had happened to shave off a portion of the objections Parliament has thrown at May’s bedraggled EU withdrawal deal.

The PM’s main audience was back home, more precisely her own party and especially the Democratic Unionists, propping up her government and hitherto roundly opposed to the Irish backstop solution of avoiding any risk of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Their judgment on the various “instruments” and interpretive whatnots, laboriously appended to the withdrawal agreement, will make or break May’s hopes of it ever passing through Parliament.

Every legal instrument of torture has thus been applied to transform a thoroughly defeated parliamentary bill in January into one that can squeak home — at some unspecified point. Remember the days of Mayan certainty? Brexit “meant Brexit” — to “make a success of” a “renewed mission” to get on with it.

Today we get a “joint interpretative instrument”, flanked with a welter of “arbitration guarantees” and guarantees of “best endeavours”. The mocking spectre of Jarndyce v Jarndyce in Dickens’s Bleak House looms over it all: “This scarecrow of a suit has, over the course of time, become so........

© Evening Standard