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Theresa May attempts to win business backing for Brexit deal as threat of leadership challenge looms

Theresa May has attempted to win over businesses to her Brexit plan as the threat of a Conservative leadership challenge looms.

The prime minister addressed business leaders at the Confederation of British Industry's (CBI) annual conference on Monday, where she said that her deal "unlocks the opportunity of a brighter future".

Mrs May received warm applause from the audience in Greenwich as she reiterated the main thrusts of her Brexit plan.

All eyes have been on Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, amid speculation over whether he has received the 48 letters of no confidence required to challenge her leadership.

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With less than a week to go until EU leaders are due to rubber stamp Mrs May’s deal at a European Council summit, she continues to face attacks from inside and outside her party over the agreement, with some of her own MPs pressing for late changes.

Fears are growing amid Brexiters that they will fall just short of the 48 letters required for a leadership challenge.

Mrs May told the audience: "We now have an intense week of negotiations ahead of us in the run-up to the special European Council on Sunday.

"During that time I expect us to hammer-out the full and final details of the framework that will underpin our future relationship.

"I'm confident that we can strike a deal at the council that I can take back to the House of Commons."

MPs are waiting to hear from Graham Brady if 48 no-confidence letters have been sent. Credit: PA

Defending the Government's Brexit proposals, Mrs May said: "Don't just listen to the politicians, listen to what business is saying, listen to what business that is providing your jobs, and ensuring that you have that income that puts food on the table for your family, is saying.

"And business is saying we want a good deal with the EU."

Mrs May was asked whether provisions in the withdrawal agreement allowing the extension of the UK's transition period might see it drag on beyond the next general election, currently scheduled for June 2022.

She replied: "From my point of view, I think it is important in delivering for the British people that we are out of the implementation period before the next general election."

Mrs May continued: "The withdrawal agreement has been agreed in full subject, of course, to final agreement being reached on the future framework.

"That agreement is a good one for the UK. It fulfils the wishes of the British people as expressed in the 2016 referendum."

Director-general of the CBI, Carolyn Fairbairn. Credit: PA

It was warmly received by Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the CBI, said that the proposed terms of the UK’s withdrawal in March and declaration about the future was "not perfect" but that they would be "significantly better than stepping off the cliff in March" and would fulfil the business world’s biggest priority of "charting a route to frictionless trade".

"It is a compromise. But it is hard-won progress," she added.

In Brussels EU's chief negotiator called for calm and said Britain would have sovereignty over its own laws.

Michel Barnier said: "It's essential for the UK in terms of taking back control.

"Now more than ever we must all remain calm and I will remain calm and keep our focus and the need for the UK to leave the EU in an orderly fashion".

According to the Financial Times Mr Barnier, told ambassadors the transition could go on until as late as December 2022.

The UK would have to allow the free movement of people throughout and continue making large payments to Brussels, the paper says.

Mrs May, who is due to travel to Brussels this week for talks with EU leaders, used a Sunday interview to hit out at Tory rivals threatening to unseat her as party leader.

She told Sky’s Ridge On Sunday she had not considered quitting, adding: “A change of leadership at this point isn’t going to make the negotiations any easier and it isn’t going to change the parliamentary arithmetic.

“What it will do is mean that it is a risk that we delay the negotiations and that is a risk that Brexit gets delayed or frustrated.”

In Westminster, ITV News' political editor said the "rebellion had been postponed but definitely not cancelled."

He added the chances of the Prime Minister "radically changing" her Brexit were highly unlikely.

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