Daily Express - - INSIDE POLITICS -

AF­TER sur­viv­ing what some se­nior Tories pre­dicted would be a week of hell, Theresa May faces a spell in pur­ga­tory over the next few days. The Prime Min­is­ter is head­ing to Brus­sels for yet an­other sum­mit that is un­likely to de­liver any re­lief from her Brexit tor­ture.

Diplo­mats had billed the gather­ing of Euro­pean lead­ers in the EU’s bizarre, egg-shaped talk­ing shop as the break­through mo­ment in the UK’s de­par­ture ne­go­ti­a­tions. But with­out full Cabinet sup­port for her lat­est pro­pos­als for a Brexit deal, crunch time has been de­layed once again. Mrs May must feel like one of the Sec­ond World War bomber pilots in the satir­i­cal novel Catch-22, con­stantly see­ing her fi­nal Euro­pean mis­sion pushed for­ward to some unattain­able point in the dis­tant fu­ture.

Brexit en­thu­si­asts in the Cabinet are in­fu­ri­ated by the way the Brus­sels ne­go­ti­a­tions have be­come so mired in the com­plex­i­ties of the Ir­ish bor­der row. One min­is­te­rial source said the Prime Min­is­ter’s agree­ment with the EU last De­cem­ber – the so-called back­stop con­tin­gency mea­sure, de­signed to cover any de­lay in fi­nal­is­ing cus­toms ar­range­ments be­tween Northern Ire­land and the Ir­ish Repub­lic – has turned out to be a dis­as­trous er­ror that has made progress elu­sive.

Claims by EU chief ne­go­tia­tor Michel Barnier and other Brus­sels fig­ures that a deal was im­mi­nent have been exposed as a tac­tic de­signed to put pres­sure on the UK.

Warn­ings from Down­ing Street that the big is­sues had yet to be re­solved have proven cor­rect when the Prime Min­is­ter ad­mit­ted on Thurs­day night that a deal in Brus­sels this week was un­likely. Yet for all the con­fu­sion this week, diplo­mats on both sides still be­lieve Mrs May will con­clude a deal with the bloc.

“It has been a case of dither and de­lay all along,” said one Govern­ment in­sider close to the ne­go­ti­a­tions. “This is how the EU has op­er­ated in ev­ery ne­go­ti­a­tion it has ever been in­volved in. They al­ways want to drag things out un­til the last pos­si­ble mo­ment.”

That mo­ment looks like it is com­ing in Novem­ber rather than next week. Mrs May faces a lot more weeks of hell be­fore the Brexit saga con­cludes.

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