//Brexit talks in the endgame, says May

Brexit talks in the endgame, says May

Theresa May and husband Philip attend the Lord Mayor's BanquetImage copyright

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Theresa May and husband Philip attend the Lord Mayor’s Banquet

Negotiations over the UK’s departure from the EU are “now in the endgame”, Theresa May says.

Addressing the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in the City of London, the prime minister said the talks were “immensely difficult”, but the sides were working “through the night” to make progress.

“This will not be an agreement at any cost,” the PM added.

Mrs May will address her cabinet on Tuesday, with some ministers believed to want a change of plan.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said there was “huge frustration” in parts of the Conservative party and the cabinet about the PM’s approach.

On Monday night, some cabinet ministers met for drinks in International Trade Secretary Liam Fox’s office to discuss Brexit, including no-deal plans and the sticking point of the Irish “backstop”.

The prime minister is under pressure from both sides of the EU debate as she tries to seal a deal in time for Brexit in March.

Both sides want to schedule a special summit of EU leaders at the end of November to sign off the withdrawal deal, but time is running out.

Brussels says it will only agree to put the wheels in motion for the summit if agreement can be reached on the issue of the Irish border.

Delay or decision?

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg

Why does Number 10 believe there could suddenly be a better answer to the same set of problems? As one former minister said, “two plus two is not suddenly going to equal five”.

And at the top table there seems to be growing appetite for a change of approach. Three different members of the Cabinet have told the BBC that the PM has to ditch her plan. Carrying on like this, they suggest, is simply banging their collective heads against the same brick wall, because it will never get through Parliament.

Some of them are even suggesting that the prime minister should consider walking away from the talks. One of them told me: “The raw truth is there is a gap between what we can accept and what the EU is offering.

“She needs to change the dynamic and only the prime minister can do that. That might mean walking away, or saying this is our best and final offer.”

Another said: “She needs to say that there won’t be a deal in order for them to move – she needs to play hardball.”

Read Laura’s blog

Several Tory MPs are unhappy at the expected shape of the deal and have warned it will not get through Parliament.

The unease centres on how the Irish backstop – a fallback arrangement to guarantee no new visible border checks – will work.

And as well as Leave-supporting Conservative MPs who are worried about the UK being tied to EU rules, some pro-EU Tories also have misgivings.

On Friday, Transport Minister Jo Johnson resigned, saying what was on offer fell “spectacularly short” of what had been promised and calling for another referendum.

‘Get on with Brexit’

In her speech on Monday evening, Mrs May said: “The negotiations for our departure are now in the endgame.

“And we are working extremely hard, through the night, to make progress on the remaining issues in the withdrawal agreement, which are significant.

“Both sides want to reach an agreement. But what we are negotiating is immensely difficult.

“I do not shy away from that.”

Mrs May said that “overwhelmingly” British people want the government to “get on with delivering Brexit”.

“I want them to know that I will not compromise on what people voted for in the referendum,” she said.

“This will not be an agreement at any cost.”

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Jesse Norman has been promoted to replace Jo Johnson in the Department for Transport, Downing Street said.

Mr Norman was previously a junior minister in the department.