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Ball's in your court, under fire May to tell EU chiefs over Brexit

By Tom Peck

Theresa May is set to tell the European Union "the ball is in your court" as she urges EU negotiators to show more "flexibility" in finding a Brexit deal that will be beneficial to both sides.

In a statement to the Commons when it returns from the conference season recess, the Prime Minister will repeat the message of her Florence speech - that the UK seeks a "deep and special partnership" with the EU.

But she will tell European leaders: "Achieving that partnership will require leadership and flexibility, not just from us but from our friends, the 27 nations of the EU.

"And as we look forward to the next stage, the ball is in their court. But I am optimistic we will receive a positive response. Because what we are seeking is not just the best possible deal for us - but also the best possible deal for our European friends too."

So far, the talks have stalled over the size of the UK's "divorce settlement", as well as the border situation in Ireland and the rights of EU nationals living in the UK and vice-versa.

This week the EU will decide whether sufficient progress has been made to allow the talks to progress on to the terms of any future trading arrangement.

EU ambassadors from Paris and Berlin are understood to have told their chief negotiator Michel Barnier that sufficient progress on the so-called divorce settlement has not yet been made, and have rejected suggestions the talks could move on to the terms of a "transitional arrangement" between the EU and the UK for two years after the UK leaves the bloc in March 2019.

Meanwhile, Mrs May has been told she must hold Boris Johnson to his expressions of loyalty amid speculation about the Foreign Secretary's position.

The PM vowed she would not "hide from a challenge" amid reports she could have a Cabinet reshuffle in an attempt to repair the damage to her authority.

Mrs May, who appears to have seen off an immediate attempt to oust her after her mishap-hit conference speech, is still vulnerable and has come under pressure to bring new faces into her top team in an effort to revitalise her administration.

Allies dismissed suggestions that Mrs May would be gone by Christmas, and Mr Johnson used a newspaper article to appeal for party unity - but acknowledged there had been a moment while MPs "sniffed the air" before rallying round the embattled PM.

Former prime minister Sir John Major hit out at the "self-absorbed" and "disloyal" behaviour of some Tories who are "driven by their own personal agenda" - comments viewed as a slapdown to Mr Johnson - while Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said being a politician should "never be about private ambition".

Ms Davidson told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show the Foreign Secretary had backed the Prime Minister's Florence speech on Brexit and Mrs May should "hold him to that".

"He is a big intellect, a big figure in the party and if the Prime Minister believes he is the right person to be Foreign Secretary then she has my full support," she said.

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