But they remained cautiously hopeful about the possibility of a statement before Christmas. Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, briefed the Cabinet on hopes that a peace formula may be produced in the next fortnight.
Sir Patrick told MPs the Government would divulge no more about its contacts with the IRA. Such communication could continue only if secrecy was respected.
Tory MPs last night underlined their support for the Union with Ulster by re-electing Andrew Hunter, a pro-Unionist Tory MP, as chairman of the backbench committee on Northern Ireland.