The British government raced Tuesday to build on a chance of a Brexit compromise on Northern Ireland, but Prime Minister Theresa May promised her fractious party she would not strike a deal with the EU "at any cost".
But British eurosceptics fear May is planning to give too much ground, and her Northern Irish allies warned that unless the EU moved further, Britain could leave with no deal at all.
At a weekly cabinet meeting, May told ministers she expected an agreement and wanted it as soon as possible -- but it would "not be done at any cost", according to her spokesman.
"We will need to be satisfied in the negotiations that we have achieved the best deal that we possibly can for the UK," he said.
Meanwhile the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, told reporters in Slovakia that "we are not there yet". Earlier Tuesday he told Belgian television RTBF that, as of that moment, there remained "a real point of divergence" on the Irish issue.
Britain has indicated it is seeking a deal before the end of November, although one official admitted Tuesday that "it would be a stretch".
The Brexit talks are stuck on the details of a "backstop" arrangement to avoid checks on goods crossing the Irish border until a new trade deal can be signed.
London suggests Britain could temporarily stay aligned with the bloc's trade rules but wants to reserve the right to exit the arrangement.
"Looks like we're heading for no deal," he wrote on Twitter, adding: "Can't understand why Irish government seems so intent on this course." May's spokesman said ministers agreed at cabinet on the need for an "effective mechanism" within the backstop to ensure "that the UK cannot be held in the arrangement indefinitely".
Work is continuing on this, he said, adding: "Don't be under any illusions that there remains a significant amount of work to do.