Theresa May is heading to Brussels for the third time in 10 days just hours after the embarrassment of her first Commons defeat on Brexit.
But the latest talks with EU leaders come at the end of a week of setbacks since the success of her early morning dash to Brussels and Brexit breakthrough last Friday.
First the Government was hit by a backlash against David Davis’s claims on Sunday that the deal was a “statement of intent” and a trade deal could be signed immediately after the UK leaves the EU.
And now a Commons defeat which forces the Government to amend its EU (Withdrawal) Bill – a move which ministers claim could prolong the Brexit process has again weakened the PM’s authority.
Theresa May The good news for Mrs May is that the other 27 countries are expected to endorse the European Commission’s judgement that sufficient progress has been made on divorce issues to move Brexit negotiations on to their second phase.
But the bad news is that the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, warned after Mr Davis’s gaffe that this may not mean an immediate start to the trade talks, which the Prime Minister wants.
A leaked draft of a text to be considered by the EU27 leaders suggests trade talks may not start until after the next summit in March, when a further set of guidelines will be produced.
What is worrying for Mrs May is that the European Council president Donald Tusk has warned that Britain and the EU face a “furious race against time” to agree a transition deal and future trade relations before Brexit in March 2019.
Mrs May is due to address fellow leaders over dinner on the first day of the summit, when she is expected to say she welcomes the prospect of moving to talks on the future trade and security relationship as soon as possible.
David Davis, Theresa May, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier According to Government sources, she will again press the case for an ambitious future relationship which she believes is in the interests of both the EU and UK.
But back at Westminster, hardline Eurosceptics are urging the PM to resist attempts to convert last week’s Brussels agreement into a legal text, as Brussels is now demanding.
Conservative former cabinet ministers Owen Paterson and David Jones have called on her to keep the door open to a “no-deal” Brexit under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
The bar for any deal agreed with the EU is that it must be better than a global deal on WTO rules, said Mr Paterson.
If it fails to meet this bar, then WTO rules are the best option so that we can diverge from the EU’s regulation and really reap the benefits of Brexit.
And Mr Jones added: We must not concede anything now that puts us at a disadvantage in the next stage of negotiations.
Owen Paterson MP That means ensuring that the Joint Report remains a statement of sincere intent, but not a legal obligation
that ties our hands.
Besides Brexit, EU leaders at the summit will discuss the launch of a new Permanent Structured Co-operation scheme (Pesco), which will allow EU countries to pool defence activities.
Even though the UK is leaving the EU, Mrs May is expected to welcome the move, which she believes can boost defence investment in Europe without threatening NATO’s pre-eminent role as the guarantor of trans-Atlantic security.
According to Downing Street, she will underline the UK’s strong commitment to collective security in Europe in the face of threats from Islamist extremism, North Korea’s missile programme and Russian aggression.
And she will urge the EU to remain committed to sanctions against Russia over its interference in Ukraine.
Mrs May will also call for a strategic response to illegal migration, including measures to discourage would-be migrants from leaving for Europe.