IT was a simple enough question.

Was the word “progress” used when Theresa May and her Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay briefed colleagues at today’s weekly Cabinet meeting on the ongoing talks with Brussels?

“The Brexit Secretary said he had a constructive meeting. The PM has had very extensive engagement with foreign leaders. But obviously there is more work still to do and the PM will be continuing her discussions with Jean-Claude Juncker tomorrow,” explained the Prime Minister’s spokesman.

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But the response conspicuously did not contain the word ‘yes’.

Now, on the more generous side, it could be that No 10 thinks that if it responded affirmatively, then the next question would be what progress, entangling the Government machine in a web of unhelpful enquiries. Given the extremely delicate nature of the talks, one could understand why Downing St would want to be even more reticent than usual.

On the less generous side, however, it could be that no progress is being made; which, to say the least, would be worrying.

The speech on the legal move to unblock the impasse on the backstop due to be given by the ebullient Attorney General today has now been shifted back, probably to Thursday. The Brexit jury is out on whether this is a good sign or a bad sign.

It is arguably the case that Geoffrey Cox is now the person with the most crucial role of all because he has to come up with a legally binding means, agreed with the EU27, to convince the likes of the DUP’s Nigel Dodds and the ERG’s Jacob Rees-Mogg that the current backstop is well and truly dead.

Now given yet another helpful declaration by Brussels that the “EU will not re-open the Withdrawal Agreement, we cannot accept a time-limit to the backstop or a unilateral exit clause," then the UK’s room for manoeuvre appears somewhat restricted.

The time-limit and the unilateral exit clause are two of the three weapons Mrs May had in her Brexit arsenal; the only one remaining is the nebulous “alternative arrangements,” which relies on modern technology and which just a few months back the PM herself made clear did not exist.

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So, where does this leave us? In a difficult spot; obviously. Or that should be in an even more difficult spot given time is now nipping at our heels.

Yesterday, David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, along with Cabinet colleagues Amber Rudd, Greg Clark and David Gauke went en masse to see the PM to underline their total opposition to a no-deal and to make their case for a limited extension to the Article 50 process should Mrs May return from Brussels by the time of next Wednesday’s vote empty-handied.

Last week, a Cabinet minister told me that he was confident the PM would produce a “form of words,” which would make clear she would not allow Britain to leave the EU without a deal; more importantly, it would reassure the Tory Gang of Four so that they would not resign either minutes before or minutes after Wednesday week’s vote, dubbed the “moment of truth”.

No 10 declined to comment on the Gang of Four’s delegation but insisted Mrs May believed that extending Article 50 would do nothing more than put off the final decision. Lord Callanan, the Brexit Minister, also insisted Britain would leave the EU on schedule on March 29.

Yet talk of an extension is gaining traction. Jose Manuel Barroso, the former European Commission President, said today the bloc was likely to accept a request to extend Article 50.

Asked if he thought Brexit would be delivered on schedule by March 29, he replied: "The most likely scenario is not to do that in March of this year. We need more... preparations.”

Mr Juncker has mooted the possibility Britain could still be taking part in May’s European elections while Nathalie Loiseau, Frances’ Europe Minister, made clear Paris was in favour of a delay “for some days for technical reasons” but, she stressed, if it were for political reasons, then there would have to be a “real advance” on a new deal.

Richard Harrington, the Business Minister, who has threatened resignation over the prospect of a no-deal outcome, said if the PM’s deal did not get through Parliament, then MPs would seize control and force a “small extension to Article 50 and Parliament will then decide on alternatives; that will become the Plan B".

Only the hardest of hard Brexiteers believes Mrs May would be prepared to see Britain leave the EU without a deal with all the social, economic and constitutional consequences that would entail.

But the choice facing the PM in the absence of that progress from Brussels - between keeping her Cabinet together and angering the Tory ERG - is not one she wants to have to make.

But time could dictate that she will have to and the only option will be to put back Brexit Day until the summer.