Cabinet on standby for Brexit breakthrough but Theresa May says deal 'will not be at any cost'
Theresa May has told her Cabinet she is confident of agreeing a Brexit deal - but insisted that it "will not be done at any cost" to the UK.
The Prime Minister said the withdrawal agreement is "95%" complete as hopes rose that a breakthrough could be imminent on how to maintain an open border in Ireland.
Mrs May's top team met for almost three hours in Downing Street to discuss the current state of play in the Brexit negotiations.
And they were told by the Prime Minister to "stand by your diaries", with the possibility of an emergency Cabinet meeting taking place later this week to sign off on a deal.
That would then allow an extraordinary EU Council summit to take place by the end of November to formally agree it, teeing up a crunch Commons vote in December.
At today's Cabinet meeting, attorney general Geoffrey Cox told ministers that a "major step" forward had taken place when Irish PM Leo Varadkar suggested a new way of resolving the border issue.
Brussels has agreed to British demands for a UK-wide customs arrangement with the EU while negotiations on a future trade deal continue, but a sticking point remains on how long it should last.
Eurosceptic Tories want Britain to be able to walk away unilaterally, but Mr Varadkar has suggested a "review mechanism" could be established which would allow the problem to be resolved.
Speaking after the Cabinet meeting, a Downing Street spokesman said: "The PM said she was confident of reaching a deal. She said that while the UK should aim to conclude the withdrawal agreement as soon as possible, this would not be done at any cost.
"The PM said that once an agreement was reached on the withdrawal agreement it would remain the case that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed and it would be subject to securing an acceptable full future framework.”
The spokesman added: "Don’t be under the illusion that there isn’t a lot of work to do."
But one Cabinet minister told PoliticsHome that they could be summoned to Number 10 as soon as Thursday or Friday to rubber-stamp a deal.
"We've been told to stand by our diaries," they said. "There are obviously still issues to be resolved, but the feeling from the meeting was that everything possible should be done to get a deal."
The minister added: "People are very focused now on what can get through Parliament, which is just as important as agreeing a deal with Brussels."
They said ministers on both sides of the argument had had "a significant reality check" in recent days.
"We're running out of road and there isn't some other deal on the table if the Prime Minister just keeps saying no to everything," said the minister.
"We're not going to get a perfect deal. The nightmare alternative for Remainers is no deal, and for the Brexiters the alternative is membership of the European Economic Area or another referendum. If we vote down the deal, you can't guarantee what will happen."
Mrs May was dealt a blow, however, when Jeffrey Donaldson MP, the DUP's chief whip, said the continuing uncertainty meant a no-deal Brexit was now the most likely outcome.
Michael Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, also played down hopes of an imminent deay, insisting "we are not there yet".
Lib Dem MP Layla Moran, of the pro-EU campaign group Best for Britain, said: "Theresa May's Cabinet met for almost three hours this morning to discuss Brexit but not a single decision was made.
"The Government can kick this can as much as they want, but soon, we are going to run out of road."