Prime Minister Theresa May set off for Strasbourg late Monday for talks with European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker in a last-ditch attempt to salvage their Brexit deal, on the eve of a crucial vote in the British parliament.
Her visit comes after British officials worked through the weekend to secure concessions from the European Union they hope will persuade MPs to back the text.
The House of Commons overwhelmingly defeated the deal in January and without significant changes, is expected to do so again in a vote on Tuesday evening.
Defeat could see Britain sever ties with its closest trading partner on March 29 with no new arrangements, causing huge disruption on both sides of the Channel.
It would also raise the possibility of postponing Brexit, after May promised to allow MPs a vote later this week on whether to accept a "no deal" scenario or request a short delay from the EU.
But Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney then suggested May could visit Strasbourg, where the European Parliament is holding its plenary session this week, to "finalise an agreement, if that's possible".
In Berlin, Merkel said the EU had offered "a large number of proposals at the weekend" to provide "much more legal clarity" over the Irish backstop.
"We've made an important offer again towards Great Britain and now of course it's up to Great Britain to react to these offers," Merkel said in Berlin. The late trip caused concern among MPs in London, who complained they may not have enough time to scrutinise any deal May agrees before being asked to vote on Tuesday.
An EU spokeswoman confirmed the talks would take place around 9:00pm (2000 GMT), and an EU source said Barnier would probably also attend.
May's deal was struck during more than a year of tough negotiations, and covers Britain's financial settlement, expatriate rights, the Irish border and plans for a transition period.
But MPs rejected it in January by 432 votes to 202, with many of May's Conservatives rebelling against her.
This would keep Britain in the EU's customs union and parts of its single market until and unless another way -- such as a trade deal -- is found to avoid frontier checks.
Many MPs fear it is a "trap" to keep them tied to EU rules, but Brussels has rejected calls for a time limit or unilateral exit clause. "It is harder to leave the backstop than it is to leave the EU," Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said.
May has promised Britain will leave the EU whatever happens on March 29, but many MPs fear that a "no deal" exit would wreak economic havoc.
In the face of a cabinet revolt, she promised that if her deal is defeated again then MPs will vote on "no deal" on Wednesday and then on Thursday, on delaying Brexit.
Any postponement would have to be approved by the leaders of the other 27 nations, who are next meeting at a Brussels summit on March 21-22 -- a week before Brexit.
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