Updated Oct 16th 2018, 10:40 AM
BRITISH PRIME MINISTER Theresa May has gathered her divided cabinet to seek their support for her approach to Brexit, the day before she addresses EU leaders at a crucial Brussels summit.
Negotiations on Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union have stalled ahead of the summit, which had been billed as the deadline for a draft deal before Brexit day on 29 March.
May is still struggling to reconcile conflicting demands from Brussels and her own MPs, raising fears of a chaotic and damaging divorce.
Several of her senior ministers reportedly met last night to coordinate their approach over takeaway pizza, before today’s regular cabinet meeting focused this week on Brexit.
Media reports this weekend suggested several Brexit-supporting ministers were considering resigning if May compromised too much with Brussels.
Asked about the pizza meeting yesterday, May’s spokesman said: “Cabinet ministers are free to eat whatever they choose.”
But with a deal looking unlikely this week after the latest round of talks broke down on Sunday, the immediate threat of walk-outs appears to have reduced.
The prime minister will still go to the summit, where she will make her pitch to the other 27 EU leaders before they have dinner without her to talk about the next steps in the Brexit negotiations.
Another summit has been pencilled in for mid-November, although some leaders have said it will only go ahead if there is progress this week.
‘No deal more likely than ever before’
The European Union President Donald Tusk has warned that a ‘no deal’ Brexit scenario is “more likely than ever before”.
British and European leaders insisted they could still reach a Brexit deal yesterday, despite the latest failed round of divorce talks.
May admitted there was still “disagreement” over how to keep an open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, although she said a deal was still “achievable”.
“We’ll just have to keep negotiating”, said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while French President Emmanuel Macron said he believed “we can make progress”.
But Tusk said in a letter to members of the European Council that while he encouraged all involved to remain “hopeful and determined”, the EU must prepare for a ‘no deal’ scenario.
As noted above, May will update the other 27 European Union leaders before their dinner in Brussels tomorrow, with the summit kicking off on Thursday, her Downing Street office confirmed.
The EU’s Brexit spokesman Michel Barnier met his British counterpart Dominic Raab in Brussels on Sunday, but they failed to agree on a draft Brexit divorce arrangement as had been hoped.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said an agreement was now more likely in November or December.
Meanwhile, the DUP have warned that the impasse meant it was “probably inevitable” that Britain would leave the EU with no deal.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald warned the party that if a hard Brexit transpires, “then there will be an immediate demand for a referendum on Irish unity”.
Meanwhile, May has also made a statement to the House of Commons to address what she called “inaccurate speculation” about the Brexit talks.
The Conservative leader said it was time for “cool, calm heads to prevail”.
“I continue to believe that a negotiated deal is the best outcome for the UK and for the EU. I continue to believe that such a deal is achievable,” she said.
But the threat she faces was revealed by Sammy Wilson, the Brexit spokesman for the DUP, which props up her government.
He suggested there was no Brexit deal that would command the support of all British MPs, saying a ‘no deal’ scenario was “probably inevitable”.
European leaders insisted there was still time to resolve the outstanding issues before a possible emergency summit in November.
“We were actually pretty hopeful that we would manage to seal an exit agreement. At the moment it looks more difficult,” Merkel said, adding “we’ll just have to keep negotiating”.
In Paris, Macron said: “I believe in our collective intelligence, so I think we can make progress”, but added that the EU was “ready for all scenarios”.