Brexit Bulletin: Where do we go from here?

108 days to go

Today in Brexit: Theresa May is kicking the can down an ever-shortening road.

Faced with a humiliating defeat on her Brexit deal, the embattled prime minister deferred the vote and said she would return to the continent to seek "assurances" from European Union leaders. 

With Britain due to leave on March 29 - with a deal or without one - the growing risk of a chaotic exit roiled UK assets and sent the pound to the lowest level since April 2017. May said the government will step up preparations in case Britain does crash out of the bloc. (Supermarkets are among those being told to stockpile as much as possible.)

This morning’s UK front pages were scathing. The Guardian called May "desperate," the Daily Mirror said she was "running scared," and the Independent dubbed her decision an "extraordinary climbdown". Meanwhile, the Telegraph evoked the memory of one of the prime minister’s predecessors, with a dramatic splash that simply stated that "The lady is for turning".

Lawmakers who had been expecting to vote on May’s deal this evening will now devote the afternoon to venting their anger. Three hours have been scheduled for them to have their say, after Speaker John Bercow granted Labour’s request for an emergency debate.

But after the opposition stopped short of calling a vote of no confidence, May is already turning her attention to the EU. She’s due to meet Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and German Chancellor Angela Merkel today as part of a whistle-stop tour of the bloc’s capitals to seek help to get her agreement through Parliament. Later this week, she’ll return to Brussels for yet another crucial summit.

Still, May’s appeals could fall on largely deaf ears. EU President Donald Tusk indicated that while the bloc is "ready to discuss how to facilitate UK ratification," officials "will not renegotiate the deal."

That raises the prospect that May will have to come back in Parliament in January with virtually the same deal and gamble that running down the clock to a no-deal departure might change the arithmetic. A Cabinet ally of May’s 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.

Another avenue is to tell the Brexiteers that they face a choice between May’s Brexit or risk no Brexit, a case that Liam Fox made to the BBC yesterday.

"My greatest fear is not getting Brexit at all," he told Newsnight.

Today’s must-reads

Even by Brexit’s standards, yesterday was an extraordinary day. May’s delay is a sign that she now oversees a government in name only, according to Bloomberg Opinion’s Therese Raphael. 

Meanwhile, The New Yorker’s Sam Knight says the delay "accentuates the sensation that Brexit, and British politics, is now entering a black hole." Before yesterday’s drama, the EU’s top court had ruled the UK can unilaterally reverse Brexit.

Brexit in brief

Weekend Thinking | In explaining why she had waited until the last minute to pull the vote, when the parliamentary arithmetic had been obvious for well over a month, the prime minister’s Cabinet ally told Rob Hutton that May had been too busy to think about the problem until the weekend, when she was able to go to her country retreat with her husband Philip and chew the matter over.

"National Crisis" | UK companies are shaking their heads at the delay. Carolyn Fairbairn, Director General of the CBI, called it "another blow for companies desperate for clarity" and said the "country risks sliding towards a national crisis." Meanwhile, Adam Marshall, her counterpart at the BCC, said that businesses are "looking on with utter dismay."

On the markets | Short-term bets on the outlook for sterling took a particular beating, suggesting the pound’s pain may not be over. Meanwhile BlueBay Asset Management says the currency may be heading toward its lowest levels since the Brexit vote. 

Economic slowdown | A report yesterday showed the UK economy lost momentum in the three months through October, a further sign of the toll being taken by Brexit uncertainty.

Brexit regret | The man who claims to have coined the word Brexit in 2012 is now ruing his creativity. In a Sky News article, Peter Wilding, the chairperson of the British Influence think tank, described it as a "sad word" and explained why he’s not pleased it caught on.

A very British protest | One Labour lawmaker spoke out against May by breaking one of Parliament’s oldest rules. As anger grew over the prime minister’s decision, Lloyd Russell-Moyle picked up the mace in the House of Commons - a symbol of Parliament’s power that no one is supposed to touch - and tried to remove it from the chamber. 

He was quickly thrown out of the House for the rest of the day for the historic form of protest. The MP used the more modern medium of Twitter to share a video of his exploits.

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