British leaders say they are making good progress in their Brexit talks and that the Conservative party may soon have its own position to take to the EU negotiators.
There remain disagreements within Theresa May's team but one source said that "with a fair wind" the cabinet could still reach a position before the Article 50 deadline expires.
"Forget about 27 EU states; getting consensus among 25 members of the same cabinet is a two-year job".
However, the slow progress in Tory negotiations has caused such deep concern among European nations that Michel Barnier, the lead EU negotiator, has abandoned work on his own strategy in order to help broker a deal within the cabinet. EU peacekeepers have been sent to all the UK ministries in an attempt to thrash out a unified British position with which the EU can then argue. "This is a crisis on Europe's doorstep," said Mr Barnier. "The EU has no choice but to intervene, if only for humanitarian reasons." It is understood his decision followed a distress call from Mrs May saying she was no longer able to silence any of her ministers.
Multi-party talks between cabinet members are still stalled over sequencing. Mr Barnier had demanded that the Treasury should speak to the Foreign Office before it bothered with the Department for International Trade. However, Liam Fox, trade secretary, has insisted that no talks could begin unless he was present. "He was prepared to allow the talks to run in parallel, but that would have required the chancellor running between two rooms every five minutes."
Sherpas from the Treasury say they have had what they call "constructive dialogue" with officials from the Department for Exiting the EU and now see a real prospect of reaching a common position that they can take to the Foreign Office office within the next two or three months.
But some disagreements run extremely deep. Boris Johnson, for instance, is seriously at odds with himself over the broad outlines of a deal. It is understood that senior figures in his own family have been called in to help. Leading members of the Johnson "loya jirga" will gather on Sunday in tents in his garden to try to thrash out a single negotiating position for the foreign secretary. One said: "The tricky part is pinning him down on detail. You think you are hashing out a view on the rights of EU citizens and suddenly you realise he's rushed off to get some more marinade for the barbecue."
There have also been clashes over cake. Mr Johnson has repeatedly said he was pro-cake and pro-eating it. However, in a serious split Philip Hammond, the chancellor, publicly rebuked his colleague, saying he was in favour of more cake for everyone. Allies of both sides say it could just be the opening salvos ahead of their full negotiations but as one has said: "It is very hard to see a compromise. It's a black forest at the moment."
Mr Fox has insisted Britain leave the customs union so that he is free to negotiate trade deals. Mr Hammond is keen to stay in the customs union until the full UK/EU trade terms are agreed and Mr Johnson has asked people to remind him what "the customs union thingy" is.
Another breach is over the transitional arrangements for the leadership of the Conservative party. All accept that Mrs May can be no more than a temporary arrangement, but there is a dispute over how long she remains in place. Supporters of a hard Maxit say she should be gone by October, but others fear the "cliff edge" of a destructive leadership contest and a Corbyn government. Soft Maxiters are looking for long transitional arrangements that would give the Tories time to find a new leader who is popular with voters. Hard Maxiters fear that this could take years.
Brussels had hoped Mrs May's re-election would bring some grip but her poor poll result means she has no control over her ministers. "It's hopeless," said one insider. "She has to ring Laura Kuenssberg at the BBC each night just to find out what her government's done that day."
Meanwhile, Brussels awaits further clarity. One Commission source said: "We do wonder if it is all a cunning plot in which the EU gets so frustrated it agrees to all the British demands just to get rid of you."
And this is why you'll never see me on The Great British Bake-Off -- it took three readings before the "black forest" bit made sense, lol.