Theresa May squeaked her Brexit deal through a divided Cabinet on Wednesday in an historic moment for the UK.
After a five-hour meeting the Prime Minister emerged from Downing Street at just after 7pm to declare her ministers had backed her controversial proposals on how to withdraw the UK from the EU.
The marathon meeting saw every member of the cabinet give their views on the draft deal, which will see the UK commit to staying in the EU’s custom union until a trade deal that resolves the Irish border issue can be implemented.
The cabinet was split on the proposal, with sources telling City A.M. that home secretary Sajid Javid pleaded to know if any further concessions could be squeezed from Brussels.
International development minister Penny Mordaunt argued for ministers to be given a 'free vote' on the deal when it hits Parliament, a move which would enable them to vote against the plan without quitting the cabinet.
A Downing Street source said no one threatened to resign during the meeting, but tensions last night remained high.
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier described the signing off of the proposal as a “decisive and crucial step”, while EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker gave the go-ahead for a special summit of European leaders to rubber stamp the exit deal later this month.
As the cabinet locked horns in Downing Streets, disgruntled Tory MPs plotted their next move, with one Brexiter telling City A.M. they had now put in a letter calling for vote of no confidence in their party leader.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, chair of the European Research Group of Conservative MPs, urged his colleagues to vote down the deal when it comes to Parliament, but he stopped short of calling for May to be toppled.
Business and City groups welcomed the draft withdrawal agreement, hailing the progress it represents while cautioning that the PM isn't over the line yet.
The PM will face her MPs in parliament on Thursday when she gives an update on the negotiations, having already been told by Tory Brexiter Peter Bone that she "will lose the support of many Conservative MPs and millions of voters across the country" by agreeing to the UK-wide customs backstop.
Speaking outside 10 Downing Street at just after 7pm, May described the cabinet meeting as “long, detailed and impassioned” before confirming that ministers had backed her plan.
She said: ‘The collective decision of Cabinet was that the Government should agree the draft Withdrawal Agreement and the Outline Political Declaration – this is a decisive step which enables us to move on and finalise the deal in the days ahead.
“These decisions were not taken lightly – but I believe it is a decision that is firmly in the national interest.”
In a sign of the concerns May has about getting the deal through parliament, she was locked in debate last last night with Arlene Foster, leader of the DUP which props up her government.
May’s statement came after a day of confusion over how the PM would announce whether cabinet had backed her deal.
After rumours she would be making a statement to journalists before addressing parliament, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn joined with other opposition party leaders to demand May update MPs ahead of speaking to the press.
At just after 5.30pm, police minister Nick Hurd told MPs: “There will be no press statement this evening.”
This was then contradicted by Downing Street, who clarified there would be no press conference, but May would indeed make a statement.