Theresa May is to address EU leaders as she battles to keep her faltering hopes of securing a Brexit deal alive.
The Prime Minister travels to Brussels for what had been billed as “the moment of truth” in the negotiations amid growing concerns the two sides will be unable to bridge the gap over the key issue of the Irish border.
The meeting is the occasion when the leaders of the remaining 27 member states were supposed to give the green light for a special summit in November to finalise the terms of the UK's withdrawal.
But after hastily arranged talks between the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier and Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab broke up on Sunday without agreement, the negotiations are once again deadlocked.
European Council president Donald Tusk has warned that without new “concrete proposals” from the British to break the logjam over the so-called Irish border “backstop”, further progress may be impossible.
During a marathon three-hour meeting on Tuesday, Mrs May insisted she would not accept an agreement on the backstop – intended to maintain an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic – which undermined the integrity of the UK or tied it indefinitely to EU customs arrangements.
The Prime Minister will briefly address the leaders of the EU 27 on Wednesday evening before they discuss the state of play in the Brexit negotiations over a working dinner while she leaves.
Her official spokesman said she would take the opportunity to set out the areas where progress had been achieved while stressing her commitment to finding an agreement.
“We want to secure a deal as quickly as possible. We think it is in the best interests of the UK and European Union to forge that deep future partnership,” the spokesman said.
With hopes of a November summit fading, focus has turned to the next scheduled meeting of the European Council in December as the last chance to secure a deal and get it ratified by the UK and European parliaments before March 2019.
Mr Barnier told a meeting of EU 27 foreign ministers in Luxembourg that “more time” was needed to find an agreement to deliver an orderly UK withdrawal and resolve the Irish border issue.
“We will take this time, calmly and seriously, to find this global agreement in the next weeks,” he said.
Some Tory Brexiteers, however, believe the Prime Minister has deliberately pushed back the negotiations to the last possible moment to pressurise MPs into backing her plan rather than see the UK “crash out” without an agreement.