EU leaders have raised the prospect of giving Britain “more time” to seal a Brexit deal beyond this week’s European Council to enable an orderly withdrawal by the October 31 deadline.

As the detailed technical negotiations continue to be shrouded in secrecy, there are now just 48 hours before the start of the European Council meant to agree a deal - or not.

UK and EU officials continue to be locked in technical talks to try to eke out an agreement by the time the 28 leaders gather in Brussels on Thursday.

But Antti Rinne, the Prime Minister of Finland, which holds the rotating EU presidency, conceded: “There is no time in a practical or legal way to find an agreement before the EU Council meeting,” and added: “We need more time.”

Remarks by Simon Coveney, Ireland’s deputy premier, were also being interpreted as a possible sign that Brussels might be willing to be flexible and allow more time for a deal to be sealed.

He stressed a lot of work still remained to be done in a very short space of time but added: "A deal is possible and it's possible this month, may even be possible this week. But we're not there yet."

By law, Boris Johnson will have to seek an extension to the October 31 deadline unless he gets an agreement by Saturday.

This morning, EU27 ministers meet in Luxembourg ahead of the European summit to be briefed on the progress or otherwise. Emmanuel Macron, the French President, who had dinner in Paris on Sunday with Germany’s Angela Merkel, is set to meet Donald Tusk, the outgoing President of the European Council, in Paris today.

Meantime, the Prime Minister will chair the regular Cabinet to update his senior colleagues at 9.30am.

There were mixed signals in Whitehall with some officials cautiously optimistic a last-minute deal could happen while others appeared to accept there was simply neither enough movement nor time to get an agreement this week.

The nub of the problem continues to be the Irish backstop and the issue of customs.

One compromise being mooted is that Northern Ireland would “legally” leave the EU’s customs union but “technically” abide by customs union rules. In a practical sense, this would mean EU tariffs would be applied on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain. But if the goods were meant for the provincial market and not the EU, then traders could seek a rebate. This would be similar to Theresa May’s highly bureaucratic “new customs partnership”.

At Westminster, remarks by Her Majesty in the Queen’s Speech were picked up after she said: “My Government’s priority has always been to secure the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union on October 31.”

No 10 sources urged people not to “over-read” the use of language and the past tense, which simply reflected the “way the Queen speaks on such matters” and did not signal any change in policy.

In the Commons, there were signs of a growing mood among so-called Tory “Spartan” Brexiteers and Labour MPs in favour of a deal to back a withdrawal agreement.

Conservative backbencher Lee Rowley, who voted against Mrs May’s deal three times, was chosen to propose the Loyal Address at the beginning of the Queen's Speech debate.

The Derbyshire MP told MPs: “In the last few days there is at least hope that this toxic and crippling fog, which we have created, might just be lifting as the Prime Minister sketches the outline of a way forward - and I speak as someone who has been robust in my review of previous proposals - but the House must surely see, as I do, that we have debated long enough. This is a moment for decision and we were elected to make decisions."

Last week, some 18 Labour MPs signed a letter urging the EU to work for a deal, making clear their votes would be crucial on whether it got through the Commons. One, Melanie Onn, who represents Great Grimsby, stressed she would support a “reasonable deal”.

In Commons exchanges on the Queen’s Speech, Jeremy Corbyn told Mr Johnson: "This Government has had three-and-a-half years to get Brexit done and they've failed. The only legitimate way to sort Brexit now is to let the people decide with a final say."

The PM accused the Labour leader of resembling a Janus. “A push-me-pull-you facing both directions at once and yet unable to decide for either," declared Mr Johnson, saying Mr Corbyn’s position “on cake is: neither having it nor eating it".