Brexit: What awaits Theresa May in Brussels after 'hell' jibe?

British Prime Minister Theresa May makes a speech Image copyright Getty Images

There's pretty much zero expectation that any real progress will be made on Thursday when Theresa May comes back to Brussels looking for changes to the backstop - that fall-back guarantee written into the Brexit deal to keep the Irish border open.

Nonetheless, we'll inevitably be poring over every word, every tone, every hint of body language on display after the prime minister's meetings with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and the President of the European Council Donald Tusk.

Especially Donald Tusk - after his inflammatory remarks on the eve of Theresa May's visit, musing about which part of hell the architects of Brexit might be consigned to.

What comments might he have up his sleeve for the prime minister?

I suspect - despite his reputation in Brussels as quite an emotional politician, keen on the limelight, colourful with words - that some of his European peers may have had a word in his ear that now is really, really not the right time.

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Media captionDonald Tusk: "Special place in hell" for those without Brexit plan

Don't get me wrong, Mr Tusk is not alone in Europe in his frustration at leading Brexiteers' unrealistic promises (that the trade deal with the EU would be the easiest and quickest in history, that it would be concluded before the end of the UK's exit negotiations, that the UK could leave the customs union and single market and still enjoy frictionless trade with the EU and more...).

EU leaders are irritated too that - as they see it - the UK voted for Brexit but keeps looking to Brussels to come up with ways to make its exit workable and painless.

But most senior European politicians are keeping those thoughts quiet - in public.

Considering the tortuous political dance Theresa May is trying to pull off in Westminster, they realise outspokenly critical EU opinions may not be helpful if, in the end, they want to get this Brexit deal done with the UK.

And they do. The alternative - a no-deal Brexit - would be costly for them economically and politically.

So - Mr Tusk's inflammatory comments aside - the intended EU message to Theresa May is: our door remains open. We are in listening mode but there is already a negotiated Brexit deal on the table. If you now want to make changes then it's up to you to ensure they are palatable both to the EU and to a comfortable majority of your MPs.

And therein lies the prime minister's devilish dilemma.

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