No-deal Brexit came a step closer today as Theresa May all-but gave up hope that an agreement can be reached with the EU imminently.
The Prime Minister had been hoping to reach a settlement by Wednesday – the deadline for calling a Brussels summit this month.
But despite negotiating teams working until 2.45am this morning, Michel Barnier has briefed foreign ministers that the two sides are still wrangling over the Irish border ‘backstop’.
Downing Street sources said people should not ‘get their hopes up’ of a package being settled in time for the deadline. The next summit is not expected to happen until mid-December – making it almost impossible to get a deal through Parliament before Christmas.
Mrs May now faces mounting pressure to activate large scale no-deal plans, amid warnings that otherwise the country will not be prepared to crash out in March.
The walls appear to be closing in on the PM, with both wings of the Tory party launching furious attacks on her Brexit approach.
No10 is on high alert for more resignations by Eurosceptics or Remainers, in the wake of the dramatic departure by Boris Johnson’s pro-EU brother Jo last week.
In his latest salvo at her blueprint today, former foreign secretary Boris warned that the PM’s plans would keep the UK ‘in captivity’ and urged a Cabinet ‘mutiny’.
Meanwhile, Labour has descended into fresh infighting after shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer insisted the process of leaving the EU ‘can be stopped’ – despite Jeremy Corbyn saying exactly the opposite last week.
The situation is threatening to spiral out of control with just over four months to go until the UK is due to leave the EU.
Aid Secretary Penny Mordaunt, a Brexiteer, delivered a thinly-veiled warning to Mrs May today by vowing the Cabinet would act as a ‘check’ on her plans.
‘The important thing is that there are two checks on this deal – there is Cabinet and there is Parliament,’ she told Sky News.
‘Cabinet’s job is to put something to Parliament that is going to deliver on the referendum result.’
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom fueled fears about a meltdown yesterday by insisting the UK must not be ‘trapped’ in an Irish border ‘backstop’ agreement.
Why hasn’t a Brexit divorce deal been agreed yet?
The Brexit divorce negotiations have boiled down to the issue of the Irish border.
Brussels had initially demanded that Northern Ireland stays within its jurisdiction for customs and most single market rules to avoid a hard border.
But Mrs May flatly rejected the idea, saying she would not agree to anything that risked splitting the UK. Instead, the government has mooted a temporary customs union for the whole UK, and accepted the need for extra regulatory checks in the Irish Sea.
Brussels has also given ground, and now appears to be prepared to sign off a UK-wide backstop in the divorce deal.
That leaves the mechanism for ending the backstop as the final hurdle to overcome – but the two sides have different views.
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