Brussels are talking up a Brexit breakthrough as Theresa May supporters insist any move to topple the Prime Minister by Tory MPs would end in “collapse and disarray”.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker sounded upbeat as he signalled that a deal could be made in time for a important EU summit in less than two weeks’ time.
As negotiations entered the final phase, Irish government sources suggested an agreement on the border issue was “very close”.
Mr Juncker told Austrian media: "I have reason to think that the rapprochement potential between both sides has increased in recent days."
The remarks raised hopes of a deal at an EU summit on October 17, or at another gathering organised for November.
'Collapse and disarray'
British Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at a press conference at the European Commission in December. Image: PA
The comments came as Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan insisted Tory MPs seeking to oust the Prime Minister represented a fringe element.
Warning against a move to replace the PM, Sir Alan told the BBC: "Don't believe all those things you read in the newspapers and take it that there are a lot of numbers behind the noise.
"And that's where you need to apply a lot of political judgment to work out whether the complainers are just a fringe, or whether they represent the main body of opinion in the middle.
"The main body of opinion in the middle and right to the edges is absolutely solidly behind her.
"Because the idea that we can go for anybody else at the moment is just folly.
"It would lead to collapse and disarray.
"It's not a credible option."
'A crazy argument'
As talks intensified, Ireland's deputy prime minister Simon Coveney accused leading arch-Brexiteers of peddling "crazy" ideas about the impact of a no-deal withdrawal.
Mr Coveney's rebuke came as Dublin urged Mrs May to bring forward her proposals to break the deadlock in the Brexit talks over the Northern Ireland border.
When it was put to him that Brexiteers believe the Republic would not erect a border in a no-deal scenario, Mr Coveney told Channel 4 News: "That is a crazy argument."