Panicking Theresa May has cancelled the Easter break for her Brexit negotiators in a bid to head off the threat of Nigel Farage.
The former UKIP leader launched his new Brexit Party this week.
Bookies instantly made it second favourite after Labour to win most seats in European elections due on May 23.
The launch sparked fear among the main parties – and put new urgency into talks with Labour counterparts that many thought would be suspended during Parliament’s Easter recess.
Mrs May wants to scrap the EU election here but can only do that if she gets her Withdrawal Agreement through the Commons – with Labour’s help.
A Downing Street source said: “These talks have been constructive and serious and both sides want to see further progress over the Easter recess.
“If we can keep up the pace of negotiations, we can get a deal over the line and avoid having European elections.”
The negotiating teams have split into working groups.
Greg Clark and Rebecca Long-Bailey will look at services and consumer and workers’ rights. Michael Gove and Sue Hayman will work on environmental protection. And Steve Barclay and Keir Starmer will discuss security.
But Labour sources insist little progress can be made without movement from the PM.
One said: “We need her to make serious commitment to moving her red lines. Until then it’s impossible to see these talks going anywhere.”
Mr Farage told the Sunday Mirror yesterday: “If Mrs May agrees to a customs union the damage to the Conservative Party would be terminal.”
The talks come amid claims Brexit has cost billions since the referendum.
The People’s Vote campaign says the economy shrunk by £40billion to £51billion a year compared to where it would be if Britain voted to stay in 2016.
Economists at the Centre for European Reform say the £360million a week black hole – more than the £350million Brexit boost bus claim – hit tax revenue, deepening and extending austerity.
Labour MP Wes Streeting said: “Brexit hasn’t yet happened and is already leaving us worse off, starving schools and hospitals of money and letting businesses slip further behind competitors.”