Theresa May has been dealt a huge blow today as EU leaders said her Chequers plan for Brexit "will not work".
European Council chief Donald Tusk said the 27 remaining member states were united in their rejection of her plans to maintain close economic ties with Brussels in the future.
His comments came at the end of a special summit in Salzburg at which May had been hoping to persuade her fellow leaders to make key concessions.
Under the prime minister's blueprint, agreed by the Cabinet at Chequers in July, the UK would agree to a "common rule book" on goods, while collecting tariffs on behalf of Brussels in a bid to keep the Northern Irish border open.
But effectively killing off her plan, Tusk said: "Everybody shared the view that while there are positive elements in the Chequers proposal the suggested framework for economic cooperation will not work, not least because it risks undermining the single market."
Tusk also poured cold water on suggestions that talks could be extended into November, with a special summit convened to hammer out the final points of a deal.
He said an extra summit would be merely a rubber stamping exercise to formalise what is agreed at a make-or-break European Council summit in October.
“The moment of truth for Brexit negotiations will be the October European Council,” he said. “In October we expect maximum progress and results in the Brexit talks. Then we will decide whether conditions are there to call an extra summit in November to finalise and formalise the deal.”
He added that EU member states will not sign up to a withdrawal agreement “without a solid, operational and legally binding Irish backstop” which would guarantee no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
The prime minister has put forward the proposal that the whole of the UK would remain in the single market and customs union for a period of time if everything breaks down.
But the EU is pushing for a plan that would see Northern Ireland alone remaining in the trading zones, which has been rejected by the government as unacceptable as it would effectively create a new border in the Irish Sea.
However Tusk sounded a note of hope for the talks, when he said: "The atmosphere today and yesterday was much better than two or three weeks ago – but the Irish question needs something more than good intentions."
'Willingness to do a deal'
Speaking immediately after Tusk, May insisted her plans could still be salvaged.
Yes, concerns have been raised, I want to know what those concerns are. There's a lot of hard work to be done, but I believe that there is willingness to do a deal,” she said.
"But let nobody be in any doubt, that as I've always said we are preparing for no deal. So that if we get to the position where it is not possible to do a deal, then the British people can be confident that we will have done everything to ensure that we make a success of leaving the European Union, regardless of the terms on which we do so."
Responding to Tusk, former Foreign Office permanent secretary Lord Peter Ricketts said there would need to be reflections on how the government handled the build up to the summit. “Did anyone think how the “My deal or no deal” mantra would sound in European ears? This is a negotiation, where EU holds most of the cards!”
Amid all the knashing of teeth about the tone from European leaders, its worth reflecting on UK public handling in the run up to Salzburg. Did anyone think how the “My deal or no deal” mantra would sound in European ears? This is a negotiation, where EU holds most of the cards! https://t.co/D1Q6xhyaMa
— Peter Ricketts (@LordRickettsP) September 21, 2018