European Union leaders gather for 'moment of truth' Brexit summit

BRUSSELS BELGIUM- JUNE 28 British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at the Council of the European Union on the first day of the European Council leaders' summit

Image Mrs May will brief European leaders on Wednesday

As so often, I'm not sure anyone's much the wiser after Prime Minister's Questions - the prime minister restated her position without any signs of evolution, and rejected suggestions about customs unions and Norway options, saying they were counter to the expressed will of the British people in the referendum.

She'll continue efforts to win senior ministers over at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning. President Donald Trump has long said he wants a deal with Britain, even as it negotiates a messy European Union exit.

It comes after May faced pressure in the Commons from Brexiteers Boris Johnson and Iain Duncan Smith over a specific end date for the proposal.

Then it was on to the Irish border "backstop" - the issue that has caused Brexit talks to stall.

Speaking after being briefed by the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier, Mr Tusk said he saw "no grounds for optimism" ahead of the European Council summit.

Residents and businesses on both sides of the now largely invisible 500km frontier also emphasise the importance of maintaining the free flow of trade and passenger traffic.

Many suspect that will not be enough time, which has led the European Union to demand a "backstop" to ensure there are no customs posts or other controls along the border between the U.K.'s Northern Ireland and European Union member Ireland.

But she suggests it should only be in place until the end of December 2021 - something Brussels has rejected, saying any fallback plan can not be time-limited.

French finance minister Bruno Le Maire optimistically declared "we are not far from a deal" on the morning of the summit.

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Regardless of what path the United Kingdom takes in the coming weeks, there can be no denying that a strong European Union will remain in the UK's interests.

In a last ditch pitch, the PM will hold one-to-one talks with the EU Council president before addressing the EU27 at a summit dinner.

However, hopes of that happening were dealt a major blow on Sunday when ministers failed to make anticipated progress on the Irish border problem. Disagreement over the backstop has brought divorce negotiations to a standstill.

Mrs May said it was always clear that the Irish border issue would be sorted out as part of the separate "future relationship" agreement.

Merkel said: "The chance of achieving a good and sustainable withdrawal agreement in good time is still there, and it is really in the interest of our relations with Britain, in the interest of our economy. and of course in the interest of people in our countries".

He added: "Only source of hope for now is the goodwill and determination on both sides".

London believes frontier checks can be avoided through a new trade agreement with Brussels, but accepts the need for a fallback plan to address the issue until that deal is agreed.

It comes as Tusk earlier this week warned European Union leaders that a no-deal Brexit is "more likely than ever before".

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