The Prime Minister is expected to struggle to persuade the 118 Tory rebels and 10 DUP MPs who voted against the deal in January to change their minds – even if she secures concessions from Brussels.
Talks faltering in Brussels even the looming threat of no deal appears unlikely to win over many more than half the rebel group.
And if the backstop talks collapse and the Prime Minister has to effectively put the same deal back to Parliament the scale of the defeat could spiral back to the historic levels seen on January 15 when she lost by 230.
Attempts to buy off Labour votes by promising £1billion over six years for struggling towns and reinforcing workers’ rights also appear to have failed with many saying they ‘won’t be bought’.
The EU has warned Theresa May (pictured leaving No 10 tomorrow) she must offer ‘acceptable’ new ideas within 48 hours if she wants to salvage talks on the Brexit deal, which faces a potentially fatal defeat
MailOnline’s bad news for the Prime Minister Britain and Brussels were locked in a standoff over Brexit today as Geoffrey Cox rejected the EU’s demand for new ideas on the backstop.
With just five days until a showdown vote in Parliament on the deal, the Attorney General insisted his proposals were ‘clear as day’.
Acrimonious talks between Mr Cox and the EU’s negotiator Michel Barnier ended in deadlock on Tuesday night with both sides admitting the ‘robust’ and ‘difficult’.
Downing Street insisted today MPs still needed ‘legally binding’ guarantees the Irish border backstop would not be permanent to pass the deal on Tuesday night.
EU officials have said they are prepared to work through the weekend on the problem but only if Britain offers new suggestions.
Chancellor Philip Hammond today warned Brexiteers to back the deal anyway insisting it is the ‘last chance’ to leave the EU on time today.
The Chancellor said a second loss for the Prime Minister would leave the fate of Brexit ‘highly uncertain’ as he predicted MPs would then vote to rule out no deal and delay Brexit.
If the PM’s deal is defeated on Tuesday night, MPs will vote on whether to rule out no deal on Wednesday before deciding whether to delay Brexit on Thursday.
With just five days until a showdown vote in Parliament on the deal, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox (pictured in the Commons today) insisted his proposals were ‘clear as day’ – but the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier knocked back every one
As the stand off continued today, Theresa May’s official spokesman said: ‘Talks are ongoing. The EU continues to state it wants Britain to leave with a deal.
‘Parliament requires us to get legally binding changes to the backstop.’
Mr Cox rejected EU claims Britain has not offered clear proposals today, telling MPs: ‘We have been engaging in focused, detailed and careful discussions with the Union and we continue to seek legally-binding changes to the backstop which ensure that it cannot be indefinite.
How frosty EU sent Britain back ‘with nothing’ in fiery talks between Geoffrey Cox and Brussels’ Michel Barnier
The EU sent Attorney General Geoffrey Cox packing as ‘difficult’ and ‘negative’ 11th hour talks failed again leaving Theresa May with ‘nothing’ that could win her make-or-break Brexit vote, it was revealed today.
Mr Cox has openly admitted he had ‘robust’ conversations with his counterpart Michel Barnier – diplomatic code for a bust-up – as he returned from Brussels empty handed last night with one source claiming: ‘There is no light at the end of the tunnel’.
Without a breakthrough the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal faces another catastrophic Commons defeat with a senior Tory admitting: ‘Everything is going to be s***’ if they lose again next week.
Mr Barnier, who has led negotiations, reportedly would not budge and ‘did not want to engage’ as he knocked back all the British proposals to break the Irish backstop deadlock demanding Britain ‘re-drafts’ its plans again.
EU sources hit back by claiming Mr Cox had produced ‘nothing new’ and was offering ‘a legal solution to a political problem’ with his mini-backstop proposals, adding: ‘The two sides are still far from each other’.
Sabine Weyand, Mr Barnier’s deputy, has spoken to the remaining EU27 member state ambassadors on the negotiations with Mr Cox with a briefing note describing the crunch talks as ‘negative’.
One diplomat said: ‘There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. It was gloomy’.
Another said: ‘We’re still far from an agreement. There’s no text on the table. If there’s some progress. The point is always the same: how to phrase the backstop in a way that could be acceptable for the UK.’
‘These discussions will be resumed shortly.’
He added: ‘We are discussing text with the European Union. I am surprised to hear the comments that have emerged over the last 48 hours the proposals are not clear. They are as clear as day and we are continuing to discuss them.’
The European Commission’s chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas insisted: ‘There are technical meetings ongoing, happening, and then of course all remains to be confirmed if and when, when and if, we have something to be presented, as always you will be the first to know.’
He added: ‘President Juncker is available 24/7 as all our Article 50 teams and everyone involved – we are in permanent contact.’
Mr Hammond told broadcasters: ‘If we don’t pass the meaningful vote on Tuesday we’ll go into a parliamentary process that very likely will lead to an extension of time and an uncertain outcome, more uncertainty for the British economy, more uncertainty for people across the country.
‘It’s very important that my colleagues think about the consequences of not agreeing this deal.
‘This is now the last chance to be confident that we can get this deal done and we can leave the EU on schedule.’
Mr Hammond refused to be drawn on how he would vote if Mrs May’s deal is defeated and MPs are asked whether they want to delay Britain’s exit from the EU.
‘I’m not going to speculate about something that hasn’t happened and I don’t think will happen because I think the Government is very clear where the will of Parliament is on this,’ he told Today.
‘Parliament will vote not to leave the European Union without a deal next Wednesday, I have a high degree of confidence about that.
‘But we do need to have clear confirmation. It’s right that Parliament should make that decision and then we’ll put the question about extending Article 50 and how we try to break this impasse by finding a consensus.’
Following Tuesday’s meeting, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, gave a gloomy assessment of the talks but said afterwards that he was ‘still determined’.
EU officials are preparing to work round the clock this weekend, saying it is ‘unlikely’ an agreement will be reached before then and that talks will go down to the wire.
And in a warning there will be no significant concessions from the EU, French Europe minister Nathalie Loiseau today said the deal cannot be reopened.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the deal was the ‘best possible solution’, and said: ‘We cannot reopen this negotiation on the Withdrawal Agreement because it is balanced…
‘We don’t like the backstop, we don’t want to have to implement it, and if we have to, we don’t want to stay in the backstop.
‘We all agree that it should be temporary, and that it’s a last resort solution.’
Philip Hammond (pictured in Downing Street yesterday) warned Brexiteers voting for Theresa May’s deal on Tuesday is the ‘last chance’ to leave the EU on time today
The latest row over the backstop – designed to prevent a hard border emerging in Ireland – centres around disagreements over language which could either form a new document to be added to the Withdrawal Treaty or sit alongside it, said to be taken from a letter written by European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker (pictured)
‘There’s no sign of a breakthrough and there will need to be some tough work in the days ahead if there’s going to be deal,’ one EU official said, adding that it was still possible negotiators could seal a deal by the end of the weekend.
Peers demand the UK stays in a customs union after Brexit
The House of Lords has demanded Britain stays in a Customs union with the EU after Brexit.
Last night, peers defied Government pleas to amend the Trade Bill to make a customs union an ‘objective’ of the trade talks phase of Brexit negotiations.
The rebel amendment carried 207-141 – setting up a new showdown when the legislation returns to the Commons.
MPs have to agree any changes made by the Lords and the Government would try to strip it from the Bill.
But PM Theresa May has only a feeble grip of the Commons and could be defeated by a handful of soft Brexit Tory rebels.
But that would leave Mrs May just 24 hours to travel to Brussels to endorse the deal on Monday before taking it back to be voted on by MPs the next day.
Tory Brexiteers have already warned the Prime Minister they want at least two days to scrutinise any new offer and will not be ‘bounced’ into an early vote.
Mr Cox, who met Mr Barnier with Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, described Tuesday’s late-night talks as ‘robust’ as he returned to London yesterday.
He said: ‘We are into the meat of the matter now. We’ve put forward some proposals, very reasonable proposals, and we’re now really into the detail of the discussions.
‘Both sides have exchanged robust, strong views and we are now facing the real discussions. Talks will be resuming soon.’
Last night it emerged that Mr Cox is trying to secure an ‘arbitration panel’ that would determine if the two sides were acting in good faith in trying to find alternatives to the backstop.
But according to a report on the BuzzFeed website, the idea was rejected by Mr Barnier.
Sources say Mr Cox and Mr Barclay could be back in Brussels as early as tomorrow to help push a deal over the line in time for next week’s vote.
Technical discussions, led by Mrs May’s chief Brexit adviser Olly Robbins, will continue in Brussels. Neither side is said to have presented any new formal text.
The latest row over the backstop – designed to prevent a hard border emerging in Ireland – centres around disagreements over language which could either form a new document to be added to the Withdrawal Treaty or sit alongside it.
According to EU sources, ‘inspiration’ for the text has been drawn from a joint letter sent to Mrs May by EU Commission and Council chiefs Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk in January.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, gave a gloomy assessment of the talks but said afterwards that he was ‘still determined’
This included a pledge to reach a future trade agreement ‘speedily’ and talked of a ‘firm determination’ to have an alternative to the backstop ready so it would either never have to be used or only triggered ‘temporarily’.
Negotiators are struggling with the ‘semantic’ challenge of agreeing a form of words which will please both sides.
Downing Street acknowledged the talks were deadlocked, but insisted they would continue.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister said: ‘The EU continues to say they want this resolved and they want the UK to leave with a deal. Parliament has been clear we need legally-binding changes to ensure the UK cannot be stuck in the backstop indefinitely.’
An EU Commission spokesman said: ‘While the talks were held under a constructive atmosphere, discussions have been difficult and we have not yet been able to identify any solution.’
Meanwhile, EU boats will be banned from fishing in UK waters if Britain leaves without a deal under a new law to be laid before Parliament today.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove will say boats which want to fish off the UK coast will need a licence from the Government.
MPs were warned last night they may lose their Easter holiday to push through Brexit legislation. It was the clearest hint yet that Brexit is set to be delayed.
Mr Gove warned MPs that votes on vital Brexit legislation could be held during Easter.
How the numbers stack up against the PM’s ailing deal…
Ahead of the vote at 7pm on Tuesday, this is how MailOnline estimates the Commons will split:
There is one vacant seat in Newport West following the death of Paul Flynn. The seven Sinn Fein MPs and four Speakers do not vote.
AYE VOTES 272
Government payroll vote and the Tory Loyalists on January 15: 196 (unchanged)
The Ministers and Tory MPs who voted for the deal last time are expected to vote Yes again. George Eustice and Alberto Costa resigned from the Government but both will vote for the deal.
Returning Brexiteers: 62 (up 62)
Everything turns on how many Tory rebels return to vote for the deal. Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee, has led the charge saying he is ready to return with changes to the backstop.
Labour rebels: 10 (up seven)
The effort to convert Labour MPs to save the deal looks to have mostly failed. Just three backed it last time and a package of money for struggling towns and workers’ rights has convinced few.
Independents: 4 (up one)
A handful of Eurosceptic independent MPs voted for the deal last time and will do so again. Ian Austin has left the Labour party and is now in the independent – but not the TIG – column.
NO VOTES: 366
Tory Rebels: 54 (down 64)
Many hardcore Brexiteers who hate the deal will not be persuaded to return. This is the battleground: if the European Research Group says no, the rebels will consign May to a second painful defeat.
DUP: 10 (unchanged)
May’s DUP allies are waiting to see what Geoffrey Cox agrees in Brussels. They loath the border backstop and without legally binding changes will vote against the deal for a second time.
Labour: 235 (down 13)
Labour has vowed to vote against the Brexit deal for a second time – both to pursue its own plans and in theory now to get a second referendum on the deal. Most Labour MPs will follow orders.
The Independent Group: 11 (up 11)
The defectors from the Labour and Tory ranks all voted against the deal last time and they will do so again. All of them want a new referendum on leaving the EU.
SNP: 35 (unchanged)
The SNP is deeply opposed to Brexit and will continue to vote against the deal. It wants Brexit stopped and sees political advantage in a new referendum to boost its independence hopes.
Others: 21 (unchanged)
An assortment of Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, Green and Independent MPs who are broadly anti-Brexit. They voted no last time and will do so again.
Labour fury at Jeremy Corbyn for cosying up to Tory Remainers who want a Norway Plus-style soft Brexit as it emerges allies warned him he will NEVER be PM if he backs a ‘second referendum’ in fiery showdown
Jeremy Corbyn was today accused of betraying his second referendum promise by ‘plotting’ with Tories who want a super-soft Brexit that would tie the UK to Brussels.
The Labour leader has discussed the Norway-style deal being proposed by senior Conservatives including Nick Boles and Oliver Letwin who want Britain to be in permanent customs union with the EU.
The meeting, which was also attended by Labour remainers, was meant to last around 15 minutes but went on for over an hour.
24 hours earlier Corbyn loyalist Ian Lavery reportedly ripped into Labour MPs now pushing Mr Corbyn towards a new EU vote and told Mr Corbyn: ‘If we back a 2nd referendum you will never be Prime Minister’, according to The Sun.
And hinting that he could back a softer Brexit deal Mr Corbyn said last night: ‘I left both meetings more certain than ever that we can find a way to work across Parliament to force the Government to back a sensible Brexit plan that protects jobs and more determined to achieve it’.
But his response has caused a backlash among second referendum supporters with one critic saying: ‘The party leader is undermining the party’s second referendum stance by plotting with the Tories’ – another Labour supporter said: ‘It’s a betrayal’.
Norway’s arrangement with the EU forces it to accept the free movement of people – ruled out by Labour’s 2017 manifesto.
Jeremy Corbyn discussed the idea of a Norway-style deal with the EU with a cross-party group of MPs – but was accused of betrayal by those who want a second referendum
Tory Remainers Nick Boles and Oliver Letwin are pushing for the softest possible Brexit based largely on Norway’s relationship with the EU – and Labour loyalist Ian Lavery has warned Mr Corbrn he’ll never be PM if he backs a second referendum
Mr Boles was in an upbeat mood following yesterday’s meeting with Jeremy Corbyn, which is likely to annoy supporters of a second referendum
But in a surprise move, the Labour leader discussed the idea with a cross-party group of MPs calling for the softest possible Brexit as an alternative to a second referendum.
What is the Norway-plus Brexit senior remainers are pushing for?
MPs from across parties have been mooting the idea of a Norway model keeping Britain in the customs union like the Scandinavian country.
It would effectively keep the UK in the single market, with a customs bolt-on to avoid a hard Irish border, and backers say it would keep Britain close to the EU while cutting contributions to Brussels.
However, critics say it has the drawbacks of keeping free movement, – and tightly limiting the possibilities for doing trade deals elsewhere.
The EU is also thought to have concerns about a country the UK’s size joining the EEA, while other states in the group might be resistant.
Tories last the meeting were joined by Labour MPs, Lucy Powell and Stephen Kinnock.
Nick Boles said he was ‘happy’ after the talks about the so-called ‘Common Market 2.0 proposal’ and tweeted last night: ‘For months now we have been meeting with senior MPs from all parties in search of a cross party Brexit compromise’.
In a separate development last night, the House of Lords voted for plans that would force Theresa May to seek a permanent customs union with the EU after Brexit.
The moves underline fears at the top of Government that Parliament will seize control of the Brexit process if Mrs May’s deal is rejected for a second time on March 12.
Chief Whip Julian Smith warned the Cabinet on Tuesday that Parliament would ‘try to force the Government into a customs union’ if the deal is defeated next week. Mrs May is considering a public warning on the issue tomorrow in the hope of pressuring MPs into supporting her proposals.
A Whitehall source said the PM could make a major speech ‘framing next week as the moment of decision for the country’.
Yesterday’s talks involved Mr Corbyn, Tory ex-ministers Sir Oliver Letwin and Nick Boles and Labour backers of the Norway plan, Stephen Kinnock and Lucy Powell.
Mr Kinnock said the meeting involved talks about a Norway-style deal, adding: ‘There is a strong cross-party consensus for a pragmatic, bridge-building Brexit.’
Sir Oliver, working with Labour’s Yvette Cooper, is leading a push for Parliament to take control of the Brexit process.
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said last night it was ‘astonishing’ that senior Conservatives were willing to work with Labour’s hard-Left leader on plans that would undermine Government policy.
Labour’s Stephen Kinnock and Lucy Powell, a former shadow minister, was the fourth MP in the group which met with Mr Corbyn on Wednesday to discuss their soft Brexit plan
In a separate development last night, the House of Lords voted for plans that would force Theresa May to seek a permanent customs union with the EU after Brexit
Last night, peers backed an amendment to the Customs Bill by a majority of 66 that would require Mrs May to seek a permanent customs union with the EU after Brexit. An alliance of Labour, Lib Dem, cross bench and some Tory peers defeated the Government by 207 votes to 141.
Labour’s trade spokesman in the Lords, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, said: ‘Ministers must drop their red lines on Brexit and embark on a fresh approach to the negotiations with the EU based around a Customs Union that protects jobs, secures opportunities for our industries, and removes the need for a hard border in Ireland.’
Ministers had been resigned to losing last night’s vote, but No10 indicated it would seek to overturn the demand in the Commons, where MPs have already voted twice to reject a permanent customs union.
Mrs May’s spokesman said: ‘The PM has been clear about the importance of the UK being able to have its own trade policy.’
Norway is not in the customs union but is a member of the EU’s single market, and has to accept free movement, pay into the EU budget and accept EU laws. Senior Tories warn that making the UK a rule-taker undermines the idea that the UK is taking back control from the EU.