Brexit: 'More talks' pledge helps May in perception war

Laura Kuenssberg
Political editor
@bbclaurakon Twitter

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media captionTheresa May: "I am clear that I am going to deliver Brexit, deliver it on time."

Did anything change? Not that much.

But for Downing Street, this has not been a pointless stop-off in the almost never-ending Brexit adventure.

Because, while there hasn't been a breakthrough, the EU has agreed to more talks, which at least opens up the possibility of discussing the changes to the troubled backstop that has caused such political difficulty.

It might not sound like much, but "we can talk", is at least a different message to "this is over" .

In the perception war, which is, of course, part of this whole battle, Theresa May didn't leave Brussels with nothing.

And in these torrid times, given the last summit before Christmas, (remember, nebulous?) going home with a process, if not a promise, counts for something.

That does not, for the avoidance of doubt, remotely make the prime minister's next steps easy.

The EU's suggestion that a compromise with Labour might sound tempting and practical. It's also a step forward for some Tory MPs who are pushing for a softer compromise.

But as we've discussed here so many times, moving to a softer Brexit could result in the downfall of the government, it could be that simple.

David Lidington and Keir Starmer might sit down to talk within days, but there are evidently costs for both of the main Westminster parties if they work together to get this deal through.

On the EU side, where so many governments are coalitions, the idea of cross-party working has an inevitable logic. But at this stage, straightforwardly, that is not the government's chosen way out.

As things stand, the Opposition wants to find compromise and the European Union wants to talk.

Sounds good? It doesn't work like that.

Because the interpretation of the political reality in most of the government, is that Theresa May won't shift to meet Labour, not yet.

And Brussels won't move yet to meet her.

And as the clock runs down, the pressure on the prime minister goes up and up with no obvious way out.

But making a big switch simply carries too many political risks, at this stage.

Just keeping going doesn't sound like a cunning political strategy but perhaps, right now, it's the only and best plan.