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Brexit talks deadlocked day before Commons vote on May's deal

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Media captionBig Brexit moment: Will MPs back or bin the PM’s deal?

Brexit talks between the UK and the EU remain deadlocked, Downing Street has said, just a day before MPs are due to vote again on Theresa May’s deal.

Mrs May spoke to European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker on Sunday night after a weekend of negotiations failed to find a breakthrough.

Talks will resume on Monday morning with the aim of securing changes to the deal before Tuesday’s vote.

The UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March.

The BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg said the chances of Parliament approving Mrs May’s deal appeared “very remote” at this stage.

She said it was still possible that the UK would come back with some new assurances from the EU over the backstop which could “get the numbers down” and limit the scale of any defeat.

The government has been seeking changes to the Irish backstop, the safety net designed to maintain an open border on the island of Ireland, and only to be used as a last resort.

But the details of it were a sticking point for many MPs when they voted her deal down in January.

They worry that – in its current form – the backstop may leave the UK tied to the EU indefinitely.

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‘Appeal for unity’

Writing in the Daily Mail, pro-Brexit Environment Secretary Michael Gove said while the prime minister’s deal was a compromise, it should not be rejected “for that reason alone”.

Mr Gove also defended the backstop, saying that if it were to be used he could not imagine EU politicians “tolerating” it for long.

He appealed for unity among MPs and the country, and rejected the notion of a no-deal Brexit: “We didn’t vote to leave without a deal. That wasn’t the message of the campaign I helped lead.”

But former cabinet minister Boris Johnson, who campaigned alongside Mr Gove to leave the EU, said there was “no way” he would vote for the backstop in its current form.

“The UK will have less sovereign power to withdraw from the backstop than it has to leave the EU itself,” he wrote in the Daily Telegraph. “It is quite a bewildering state of affairs.”

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Media captionIs the UK actually in a crisis over leaving the EU?

‘Kill the deal’

On Sunday, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt urged MPs to back the deal or risk losing Brexit altogether.

He said some MPs wanted to “kill” the deal in order to delay Brexit, and ultimately get another referendum on the issue.

“Within three weeks, those people could have two of those three things,” he said.

As things stand, the chances of Theresa May getting approval in the Commons tomorrow for her Brexit compromise, reversing a defeat of more than 200 votes, are very remote.

That said, it is quite possible to get those numbers down. Despite the fact the talks are stuttering with Brussels, it is still likely there will be some kind of piece of paper that emerges from the Berlaymont building – those edifices in Brussels where negotiators have been locked for the past few days.

There is likely to be some kind of reassurance on paper out of those talks, probably at some point later today.

The political point though is this: It is very unlikely – very unlikely – that it’s going to be enough to get the kind of revision to the deal that could comfortably reverse the defeat for the prime minister. That’s why some MPs are starting to say, as they did last time, it is unwise for her to keep marching into gunfire to do again what no prime minister had done in recent memory – to go into a crucial vote all but knowing you are going to lose, and lose badly.

And that’s why things are so risky this week.

What could happen this week?

If Mrs May’s deal passes on Tuesday, the UK will leave the EU under the terms of the deal on 29 March.

If it is rejected, MPs have been promised a vote on Wednesday on whether the UK should leave without a deal.

If they then reject a no-deal Brexit they could get a vote on Thursday on whether to request a delay to Brexit from the EU.

If it reaches that point, public health minister Steve Brine said he would resign unless Tory MPs are given a free vote on the issue.

“I would find it very difficult, actually impossible to be part of a policy that was pursuing actively no-deal,” he told BBC Radio 4’s The Westminster Hour.

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