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

Faisal Islam, Political Editor

Theresa May has warned EU leaders of her political difficulties in the UK and urged them to help deliver a deal she can defend domestically.

The high-stakes plea, a clear reference to the internal wrangling within her own Cabinet, seeks to persuade European leaders to help her own political capital in the UK, by offering something in return for her Florence speech offer.

:: PM tells Sky's Faisal Islam her Florence speech has begun to 'change some thinking' in Europe

Addressing her fellow leaders over an EU Council summit dinner, the Prime Minister said the UK intended to take a "creative and pragmatic approach to securing a deep and special partnership".

She reiterated an "unconditional commitment to security" in Europe.

She acknowledged that the process was "in difficulty" during the summer and decided to take stock and make a step forward with the Florence speech.

The PM referenced "a difficult political backdrop" in the UK and said the EU27 must deliver to her a deal "we can stand behind and defend to our people".

She concluded by urging the EU27 to have a "clear and urgent imperative" to create a "dynamic that enables us to move forward together".

:: EU leaders play down Brexit talks progress

On the first day of the summit EU leaders welcomed Mrs May's latest offer to free up Brexit negotiations but talked down chances of them moving on to the crucial trade stage.

They are expected today to vote down a motion confirming "sufficient progress" has been made since Article 50 was triggered.

That would mean Brexit Secretary David Davis is powerless to begin negotiations on the UK's future relationship with the EU, including on trade.

Mr Davis gave an interview to European media on the eve of the summit trying to exert his own leverage, calling for the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier to be given "more leeway in his mandate".

But French President Emmanuel Macron downplayed the idea, telling reporters as he arrived in Brussels that the EU27 was "united" behind Mr Barnier.

The Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, heaped praise on Mrs May for her post-dinner speech.

"I think it was her best performance yet, in the sense that it conveyed a warm, candid and sincere appeal that she wants progress to be made, that she has moved in her position - I think that was appreciated.

"Obviously there are the problems that we all know.

"I think the wording of today's conclusion will show that there is willingness from the EU's side to move forward."

He denied holding out to extract as big an exit bill as possible, adding: "That's definitely not me. I don't know about the others."

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Mrs May remained defiant at the summit, hailing the "concrete progress made so far" and stressing "urgency" of agreeing deals on things like citizens' rights.

She added the UK would play a full role in dealing with the shared challenges of counter-terrorism, migration and defence.

EU leaders later dined on a starter of butternut gnocchi and smoked haddock, with "pheasant supreme", cep mushrooms and a pear filled with cranberries for their main course. Dessert was fresh pineapple.

Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage said Mrs May had looked "desperate... going along begging" during the summit.

"It's rather like the UK is a mouse and the EU is a cat - they're playing with us," he said, adding that German Chancellor Angel Merkel was Britain's "one hope" to move talks forward.

Jeremy Corbyn has also been in Brussels , flanked by a delegation of shadow ministers, and held several meetings with top level EU officials.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer told Sky News it was only "responsible" for the Opposition to be meeting with Mr Barnier "to make sure that we fully understand the seriousness of the situation".