Theresa May pleads with her Cabinet not to split over Brexit
Theresa May has issued a desperate plea to her Cabinet not to split as she tries to agree a Brexit deal with the EU.
The Prime Minister's top team spent two-and-a-half hours discussing the ongoing deadlock ahead of a crunch summit in Brussels.
In a sign of their deep disagreements over the issue, no decisions were taken on what the Government's negotiating position should be.
However, the Cabinet did back Mrs May's insistence that any Brexit deal should not lead to the break up of the UK or leave the country in a "backstop" customs union with the EU indefinitely.
Mrs May said: "I am convinced that if we as a government stand together and stand firm we can achieve this."
Despite speculation that a string of ministers could be poised to resign at today's meeting, Mrs May's spokesperson said none had threatened to quit or discussed leaving at this morning's gathering.
"We got a very clear message this morning of a Cabinet which is determined to secure a deal," the spokesperson said.
The meeting came after two-thirds of Mrs May's Cabinet met over pizza to debate how to block her Brexit plans.
A total of eight top ministers, including Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Environment Secretary Michael Gove met in Commons leader Andrea Leadsom's office on Monday night.
Also attending the clandestine gathering were International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, Treasury Secretary Liz Truss, and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox.
According to Number 10, Mrs May used this morning's full Cabinet meeting to talk up the "huge progress" made in Brexit negotiations so far - while acknowledging that "sticking points" remained over avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland.
"The Prime Minister said it is not possible for her or any UK Prime Minister to sign up to an agreement that would lead to a customs border down the Irish Sea," the spokesperson said.
"She said we also need to ensure that we do not have a situation where the UK would be kept indefinitely in the backstop against our will."
They added: "Cabinet strongly supported the Prime Minister over the importance of maintaining the integrity of the Union. Cabinet also agreed that we must be able to ensure we cannot be kept in the challenging backstop arrangement indefinitely.
"The Prime Minister said there will no doubt be challenging moments ahead, that is in the nature of challenging negotiations. She said she is committed to ensuring a Brexit that delivers on the referendum result, safeguards jobs and security and which preserves our Union."
But Labour tore into the Prime Minister following the gathering of top ministers, accusing Mrs May of being "in office, not in power".
Shadow Brexit minister Jenny Chapman said: "With two days until a crucial EU summit, it is simply extraordinary that the Cabinet can’t agree what its plan for Brexit is. If the Cabinet can’t make a decision on Brexit, then what’s on earth is the point of it?"
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran of the anti-Brexit Best for Britain campaign added: "The Prime Minister made a plea for unity but many of the Brexiters around the cabinet table are creating mayhem.
"The Prime Minister cannot sign off on her bad deal because of the luddites in the ERG. They are the political wing of the flat earth society."
'IT WILL TAKE UNTIL NOVEMBER'
The marathon Cabinet meeting comes ahead of tomorrow's crucial gathering of EU leaders, at which it was hoped a significant breakthrough on Brexit would be reached.
However, the two sides remain deadlocked over plans to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.
Both the UK and EU are trying to avoid new physical checks or infrastructure between Northern Ireland and the Republican, but they split over a "backstop" solution that would kick in if no permanent fix can be found.
The EU has proposed keeping Northern Ireland in the bloc's customs union and parts of the single market indefinitely, but Mrs May has warned that would threaten the "integrity of our United Kingdom" and is instead pushing a "temporary" UK-wide customs union with the EU.
In a fresh sign that a deal remains elusive, Ireland's deputy prime minister Simon Coveney today became the first senior EU figure to say there will not be a Brexit deal at this week's summit.
Emerging from talks in Luxembourg with the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, Mr Coveney told the Evening Echo: "We shouldn’t be in any way panicked. I never expected agreement to happen this week. I felt it will take until November to get done. Let’s hold our nerve now and continue negotiation."