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PM raises stakes amid sluggish Brexit progress

For the second successive EU Council, Theresa May addressed ..

For the second successive EU Council, Theresa May addressed EU leaders after the Summit dinner, over a coffee, in between official agenda items.

And for the second successive dinner she was listened to politely, but with no immediate reply.

After the dinner, EU leaders were careful to encourage the positive tone.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she had no doubt that a deal would be struck eventually.

"My impression is that these talks are moving forward step by step," she said "in contrast" to the British press.

But she also warned little more had been said to provide clarity in the PM's dinner update.

::Theresa May urges Brexit deal 'we can defend' to British public

Image:Mrs May talks with Dutch Prime minister Mark Rutte (L) and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni in Brussels

There were not "any more specifics" and that UK had not been clear, Ms Merkel said.

The Dutch PM Mark Rutte said: "There are no new proposals."

Barring a surprise today, it does not augur for a real breakthrough after the PM leaves the summit on Friday and the EU 27 consider what if any alterations to Michel Barnier's mandate they offer up.

Some consideration of transition within the EU 27 to prepare for progress in December is still on the cards.

But it is important to note how much Downing Street have downplayed expectations.

In June we were told that progress to trade talks had been "pencilled in" for October.

Before that, we were told trade talks would occur in parallel with exit deal talks.

And who can forget the referendum promise that trade talks would be easy because Mrs Merkel would be pressurised by German car manufacturers to do a quick deal.

This is yet to materialise.

:: Theresa May challenged to give EU citizens certainty by Christmas

(From L) German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Britain Prime minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron talk as they arrive in Brussels, on October 19, 2017 on the first day of a summit of European Union (EU) leaders, set to rule out moving to full Brexit trade talks after negotiations stalled. / AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS (Photo credit should read JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images)
Video:May calls for Brexit negotiations to be speeded up

It will be December at the earliest, and time ticks on an Article 50 clock started by the PM's triggering in March.

It leaves 10 months even on the fastest timetable before a deal needs to be presented for ratification to various parliaments in a year's time.

Mrs Merkel said that both sides would have to move. But so far in this process it has mostly been the UK doing the moving.

That is why the PM made the high-stakes claim that the EU 27 needs to help her deliver a deal they can defend to their people.

Number 10 are adamant that was not a reference to her own internal political squabbles.

The problem is that all the EU 27 are well aware of what happened over the past month.

European diplomats now compete over their understanding of the Tory Party psychodrama over Europe.

Top German allies of Mrs Merkel consider the entire referendum and renegotiation process to have been an outsourcing of Tory divisions to the EU Summit table.

:: Labour – Theresa May's Brexit strategy 'in paralysis' amid legislation delays

Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker embrace following talks in Brussels
Image:Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker embrace following talks in Brussels

It was then Irish leader Enda Kenny in the same room who told EU leaders to give David Cameron the "tools he needed" to win the referendum in February 2016.

This might not be an argument to win over the Council again.

They sense the upper hand in negotiations, and can see the logic for further concessions.

On the upside there is some resolve to maintain the limited momentum in these talks, and encourage a slight moving forward.

On the downside, time more generally is in short supply.

This process has proven far trickier than the pre-referendum promises.

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