A day after Prime Minister Theresa May canceled a Brexit vote she was sure to lose, leaders on both sides of the Channel sought Tuesday to salvage their deal. European leaders made clear they would not accept changes to the plan: "There is no room whatsoever for renegotiation," said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
May's spokesman, James Slack, said Britain is also loath to alter the 585-page agreement: "If you reopen the withdrawal agreement, that brings with it difficulties, such as issues that were off the table being put back on the table."
So does that mean the deal is dead? Not necessarily. Juncker, while ruling out changes, said: "If used intelligently, (there) is room enough to give further clarification and further interpretations without opening the withdrawal agreement."
Slack said May was seeking "reassurances" from the EU about some aspects. So what's the difference between changes on the one hand, and "clarifications" and "reassurances" on the other? The common wisdom is that reassurances, as opposed to changes, have no legal weight.
But enter Martin Callanan, a minister with Britain's Brexit department, who seemed to find a semantic sweet spot Tuesday when he said Britain needs "legally binding reassurances." What does that mean?
Probably an addendum to the agreement that would be incorporated into the legally binding text. Sort of like a reassurance with teeth. Or in other words, a change.
Associated Press writer Jill Lawless contributed.