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Simon Coveney praises EU 'solidarity' as Theresa May faces more Tory revolt: how Brexit unfolded today

The British prime minister faced further revolt from inside her party amid claims that a deal was imminent.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier (L) and Simon Coveney (R)
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier (L) and Simon Coveney (R)
Image: Twitter/@simoncoveney

CHANCES OF AN agreement on a Brexit deal this month receded after another meeting between the European Union and the UK ended without a breakthrough.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said her government was working “extremely hard” to save a deal that continued slipping out of grasp despite frantic negotiations.

However, she faced further revolt from inside her own party, as both pro-European and eurosceptic MPs begin to speak out.

Meanwhile, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney praised the EU 27 at the start of a crucial week for Brexit negotiations, saying solidarity across the EU remained “very strong”.

This afternoon, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned that no deal had yet been sealed on Britain’s departure from the bloc, despite earlier claims to the contrary.

In London, May’s spokesman said there were “still substantial issues to overcome” after overnight talks in Brussels that lasted until early this morning.

The prime minister is expected to host a weekly cabinet meeting tomorrow, but a source in the UK source told AFP: “As it stands there’s no agreement for them to discuss.”

Earlier, there were suggestions that the terms of a Brexit deal was set to be presented to ministers for approval at the meeting, but Barnier’s statement appeared to quash any hopes that such a deal was imminent.

‘Terrible mistake’

Government sources said that a deal must happen by Wednesday if there is any chance of an extraordinary EU summit this month taking place for the withdrawal agreement to be signed.

If there is no deal in November, the crisis will likely drag on until a regular EU summit on 13 December, just over three months until the UK’s departure from the bloc.

Hints that May was giving ground drew anger from the Democratic Unionist Party and of eurosceptics in the Conservative Party. 

Opposition from the other side of the debate has also sharpened in recent days after pro-European junior transport minister Jo Johnson resigned, calling for a second referendum and saying the mooted deal with Brussels was a “terrible mistake”.

Armistice Day 2018 British Prime Minster Theresa May Source: PA Wire/PA Images

He joined several other Conservatives who want to stay in the EU by urging fellow MPs to vote down the deal when they can.

Britain faces the prospect of crashing out of the EU with no deal in place if there is no agreement signed and ratified by the time of the scheduled date of Brexit on March 29, 2019.

Meanwhile members of May’s cabinet, which has publicly backed her since the dramatic resignations of two eurosceptic ministers in July, are also beginning to speak out.

Hardline MPs 

Aid minister Penny Mordaunt, a eurosceptic reported to have reservations about the Brexit deal, raised alarm bells today by saying ministers would act as a “check” on the plan as much as parliament.

The Conservative divisions had already meant that May would likely have to rely on opposition Labour votes to get the deal through – despite that party also threatening to reject it – but the numbers are looking increasingly hard to add up.

Speculation in recent weeks suggests up to 30 or 40 hardline MPs could vote against the Brexit agreement, believing Britain would be better off leaving the EU with no deal.

May has previously urged MPs to “act in the national interest” and privately warned her party that she cannot predict what might happen if it is rejected.

The Labour Party claims the deal falls short of expectations and suggests it will reject it, eyeing a possible election in which it might win power.

But individual Labour MPs have indicated they could back the government, many of them representing manufacturing areas that they fear would suffer badly without a Brexit deal.

After the vote, there may still be trouble ahead when the deal is put into legislation, which must be passed by Brexit on March 29.

With additional reporting from AFP.

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