Theresa May will put a Brexit deal to Cabinet tomorrow after negotiators finally found a way through the impasse over the Irish border.
The Prime Minister is facing the fight of her political life after officials in Brussels thrashed out the text of an agreement overnight.
The breakthrough sets up two titanic showdowns – one with the Cabinet and another in Parliament – that could define the future of the country.
No10 is bringing ministers in one by one for talks this evening, in the hope personal appeals can cut the risk of resignations by Brexiteers when the senior team gathers again at 2pm tomorrow.
However, even if the premier survives the crunch session with her Cabinet unscathed she is facing a massive task to push the deal through the Commons.
The DUP – which is propping Mrs May up in power – warned tonight that Mrs May appeared to have caved into Brussels and if that is the case they ‘could not possibly vote for’ her deal.
The ERG group including dozens of Eurosceptic Tory MPs also furiously denounced the blueprint, urging ministers to quit – and even said that the ‘government’s days are numbered’.
The dramatic movement came as the clock runs down on a deadline for triggering an EU summit that could approve a divorce package this month.
No10 is bringing ministers in one by one for talks this evening, in the hope the risk of resignations by Brexiteers when the senior team gathers again at 2pm tomorrow. Pictured left is chief whip Julian Smith, and right is Trade Secretary Liam Fox
Theresa May (pictured at a banquet in London last night) tried to head off the mounting unrest by saying she will not do a deal ‘at any cost’
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling (left) and Health Secretary Matt Hancock (right) were among the ministers going into No10 tonight
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss came to No10 to be briefed on the deal tonight
Boris Johnson tore into ‘stage managed delays’ to the Brexit process saying no-one would be ‘fooled’ by the manoeuvring
EU and UK negotiators are said to have agreed a text for a ‘backstop’ to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic last night.
Mrs May’s envoy Olly Robbins and Michel Barnier’s deputy Sabine Weyand have been working into the early hours as the key issue threatened to derail the whole process.
The new backstop plan is believed to include a UK-wide customs arrangement, but the PM’s DUP allies are anxious about claims there are ‘deeper’ provisions on customs and regulation specifically for Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, Tory Eurosceptics are incandescent at the idea that the UK will not be able to exit the ‘backstop’ unilaterally. The two sides are thought to have agreed that there can be a ‘review’ mechanism with independent arbitration.
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said: ‘If the reports are as we are hearing, then we couldn’t possibly vote for that.’
How has Theresa May tried to resolve the Irish border issue?
The Brexit divorce negotiations have boiled down to the issue of the Irish border.
The line between Northern Ireland and the Republic will be the UK’s only land border with the EU after we leave the bloc.
Brussels had initially demanded that Northern Ireland stays within its jurisdiction for customs and most single market rules to avoid a hard border.
But Mrs May flatly rejected the idea, saying she would not agree to anything that risked splitting the UK. Instead, the government has mooted a temporary customs union for the whole UK, and accepted the need for extra regulatory checks in the Irish Sea.
Brussels has also given ground, and appears to have signed up to a UK-wide backstop in the divorce deal.
That left the mechanism for ending the backstop as the final hurdle to overcome – but the two sides had different views.
These were the options on the table:
Dominic Raab and other ministers argued that the UK should be able to scrap the backstop arrangements by giving three to six months’ notice.
That would have assuaged Eurosceptic fears that the country could end up being trapped in an inferior customs union indefinitely, unless the EU gives permission for it to stop or a wider trade deal is sealed.
For its part, the EU has been adamant that the backstop must offer an ‘all-weather’ solution to the Irish border issue and stay in place ‘unless and until’ it is superseded by other arrangements.
The bloc has already effectively killed off calls for a hard end date to the backstop – and No10 had been convinced over recent weeks that a simple unilateral notice period would not unlock the talks.
A way through seemed to materialise when Mrs May and Irish PM Leo Varadkar discussed a ‘review mechanism’ for the backstop last week.
It could involve an independent arbitration body assessing whether the terms were being honoured and if the arrangement should be ended.
Potentially this would allow Mrs May to say the backstop would not go on for ever.
Attorney General Geoffrey Cox – an eminent QC and strident Brexiteer – had been involved in coming up with a text that satisfies both sides.
But the devil will be in the detail, and the success of the package depends on whether Mrs May can convince ministers and MPs there are ‘robust’ ways for the UK to escape.
Brexiteer former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said it looked like the government was ‘breaking their own agreed position and will be bringing back something that is untenable’.
He added that ‘if the Cabinet agrees it, the party certainly won’t’.
Asked if the Government’s days were numbered he said: ‘If this is the case almost certainly, yes.
‘Because they are in real trouble if they bring back something that is unacceptable to the party.’
Fellow Tory MP Mark Francois urged Cabinet to stand up against the Brexit deal.
‘The Cabinet is at the apogee of our political system. Those members of the Cabinet – what they do in the next 24 hours will probably be the most important thing that they do in their lives,’ he told reporters.
‘And they now have an opportunity to stand up for their country and to defend its destiny. We very much hope that they will take it.’
But other Tories condemned their colleagues’ uncompromising response.
Simon Hart, leader of the Brexit Delivery Group which is fighting to get a deal over the line in time for exit day, told MailOnline: “This is now judgment day. Every minister and MP needs to weigh up what’s on offer, compare it with alternative outcomes and make their decision and live with the consequences.
‘Using this moment to play politics or grandstand will rightly be greeted with dismay by all our voters, irrespective of whether they voted to leave or remain.
‘We are looking for calm assessment of the position not the political hysteria which has been all too frequent when discussing Europe.’
Labour repeated its determination to vote against any package that did not meet its six tests – which are widely regarded as designed to be failed.
A source told RTE that the agreement – which runs to between 400 and 500 pages – was now ‘as stable as it can be’ and had been sent to Downing Street.
A No10 spokesman said: ‘Cabinet will meet at 2pm tomorrow to consider the draft agreement the negotiating teams have reached in Brussels, and to decide on next steps.
‘Cabinet Ministers have been invited to read documentation ahead of that meeting.’
The EU’s mechanisms for summoning a special summit at the end of November will now swing into action – with a meeting of ambassadors due tomorrow evening and foreign ministers due to gather on Monday.
But Mrs May must still get it past an increasing restive Cabinet, before running the gauntlet of vehement opposition from Remainers and Brexiteers in Parliament.
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab is said to be spearheading a group of ministers who have been warning that crashing out of the EU would be better than caving into EU demands.
Mr Raab has apparently being trying to harden the resolve of colleagues by assuring them that a no-deal Brexit can be ‘managed’.
Aid Secretary Penny Mordaunt yesterday insisted the Cabinet would act as a ‘check’ on what kind of deal the premier agrees to.
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom and Work and Pensions Secretary Andrea Leadsom have also been put on ‘resignation watch’ by No10.
Mrs May used a speech in London last night to try and head off the disquiet, saying she will not do a deal ‘at any cost’.
In her annual address to the Lord Mayor’s Banquet, she said negotiations were approaching ‘the end game’.
But she stressed there were still ‘significant’ issues that continue to block the path to a deal with Brussels.
Cabinet Office minister David Lidington gave the first hints at progress this morning, saying the two sides were within ‘touching distance’.
‘We are not quite there yet. This was always going to be an extremely difficult, extremely complex negotiation but we are almost within touching distance now,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today.
‘But, as the PM has said, it can’t be a deal at any price. It has got to be one that works in terms of feeling we can deliver on the referendum result and that is why there is a measure of caution.’
Mr Lidington admitted that the government would need to trigger large scale no-deal plans soon if there is no resolution – but played down suggestions this week is a hard deadline to launch contingencies and avoid the UK being unprepared to leave without an agreement.
What happens now Theresa May has a Brexit deal from Brussels?
Theresa May (pictured at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet on Monday) has struck a Brexit deal with Brussels – but now has to sell it to her Cabinet and then Parliament
Theresa May has struck a Brexit deal with Brussels – but now has to sell it to her Cabinet and then Parliament.
Here is how events could develop now a draft agreement has been reached.
Downing Street meetings, tonight
What will happen? The first step is for the Prime Minister to meet her ministers individually tonight. Members of the Cabinet will each visit No 10 for a personal briefing on what is in the deal.
Ministers were able to see most of the deal in a private ‘reading room’ last week – but not the most sensitive parts about the Irish border.
What if ministers do not agree? If Mrs May has miscalculated her position, rebellious ministers could even resign on the spot – potentially destroying the plans at the very first hurdle.
The Prime Minister can probably survive one or two resignations – but a mass walkout would almost certainly finish her.
What happens if they do? The Cabinet will reconvene tomorrow to formally discuss and accept the deal.
Special Cabinet, November 14
What will happen? The Cabinet will assemble in Downing Street tomorrow afternoon to formally make a decision about whether to adopt the plan.
Britain’s most senior minsters are likely to have an extensive and frank discussion about the terms of the deal. The meeting, in Downing Street’s Cabinet Room, will be the last opportunity to make clear criticism and disagreement.
What if Cabinet cannot agree? Anyone who cannot agree to the plan or who attacks it after will be expected to resign or face the sack.
Much like after the one on one meetings, no individual resignation will sink the Government but a raft of people quitting could collapse the Government.
Chances of no deal would rocket as there is little time to negotiate a new deal.
What if there is agreement? At the end of the meeting, Mrs May will likely sum up and ask her Cabinet to endorse the plan.
Once the Cabinet has agreed, they are all bound by a ‘collective responsibility’ to defend it in public.
The Cabinet (pictured in July) will assemble in Downing Street tomorrow afternoon to formally make a decision about whether to adopt the plan
Emergency EU Summit, Brussels, late November
What will happen? If the divorce package is agreed between the two sides, it will need to be signed off by EU leaders.
EU council president Donald Tusk will convene a summit where formal approval will be given by EU leaders. This is expected sometime between November 22 and 25.
Will the whole deal be agreed? The Brexit deal is due to come in two parts – a formal divorce treaty and a political declaration on what the final trade deal might look like.
The second part may not be finished until a regular EU summit due on December 13-14.
Assuming the negotiations have reached an agreement and Mrs May travels to Brussels with her Cabinet’s support, this stage should be a formality.
What if there is no agreement? If EU leaders do not sign off on the deal at this stage, no deal becomes highly likely – there is just no time left to negotiate a wholly new deal.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (pictured) is still a crucial figure in the Brexit drama
The so-called ‘meaningful vote’ in the UK Parliament, December 2019
What will happen: A debate, probably over more than one day, will be held in the House of Commons on terms of the deal.
It will end with a vote on whether or not MPs accept the deal. More than one vote might happen if MPs are allowed to table amendments.
The vote is only happening after MPs forced the Government to accept a ‘meaningful vote’ in Parliament on the terms of the deal.
What happens if May wins? If the meaningful vote is passed, there will be a series of further votes as the withdrawal treaty is written into British law.
It will be a huge political victory for the Prime Minister and probably secure her version of Brexit.
What happens if she loses? This is possibly the most dangerous stage of all.
The Prime Minister will have to stake her political credibility on winning a vote and losing it would be politically devastating.
Brexiteers do not want to sign off the divorce bill without a satisfactory trade deal and Remainers are reluctant to vote for a blind Brexit.
She could go back to Brussels to ask for new concessions before a second vote but many think she would have to resign quickly.
The Prime Minister (pictured at the EU Council in June) has made clear the UK will leave without a deal if MPs reject her package
Ratification in the EU, February 2019
What will happen? After the meaningful vote in the UK, the EU will have to ratify the agreement.
The European Parliament must also vote in favour of the deal. It has a representative in the talks, Guy Verhofstadt, who has repeatedly warned the deal must serve the EU’s interests.
Will it be agreed? In practice, once the leaders of the 27 member states have agreed a deal, ratification on the EU side should be assured.
If the deal has passed the Commons and she is still in office, this should not be dangerous for the Prime Minister.
Exit day, March 29, 2019
At 11pm on March 29, 2019, Britain will cease to be a member of the European Union, two years after triggering Article 50 and almost three years after the referendum.
Exit happens at 11pm because it must happen on EU time.
If the transition deal is in place, little will change immediately – people will travel in the same way as today and goods will cross the border normally.
But Britain’s MEPs will no longer sit in the European Parliament and British ministers will no longer take part in EU meetings.
Negotiations will continue to turn the political agreement on the future partnership into legal text that will eventually become a second treaty. Both sides will build new customs and immigration controls in line with what this says.
Transition ends, December 2020
The UK’s position will undergo a more dramatic change at the end of December 2020, when the ‘standstill’ transition is due to finish.
If the negotiations on a future trade deal are complete, that could come into force.
But if they are still not complete the Irish border ‘backstop’ plan could be triggered.
Under current thinking, that means the UK staying in the EU customs union and more regulatory checks between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland.
Eurosceptics fear this arrangement will prevent the country striking trade deals elsewhere, and could effectively last for ever, as Brussels will have no incentive to negotiate a replacement deal.
At a 45-minute Cabinet meeting this morning, Mrs May said there were only a few issues to be finalised and UK officials were pushing for the ‘best text that can be negotiated’.
But Mr Johnson tore into ‘stage managed delays’ to the Brexit process, saying people should not be ‘fooled by this theatre’ and a ‘surrender’ by the government is imminent.
‘No one is fooled by this theatre. Delay after staged managed delay,’ he wrote on Twitter.
‘A deal will be reached and it will mean surrender by the UK.
‘We will be doomed to remain in the customs union and under Brussels’ regulatory control. People did not vote for colony status.
‘The future can be bright if only we change course now.’
Michel Barnier seemed to make a bid to bounce the UK into a deal yesterday, after he briefed EU ambassadors that a deal was ‘largely’ done and could be put to the Cabinet this morning.
Downing Street dismissed the claim as ‘total b******s’.
There had been warnings that failure to agree a package by tomorrow would reduce the prospects of a special Brexit summit in Brussels this month close to zero.
The next available opportunity would not be until mid-December – killing Mrs May’s chances of holding a vote in Parliament before Christmas.
Michel Barnier (pictured in Brussels) seemed to make a bid to bounce the UK into a deal, after he briefed EU ambassadors that a deal was ‘largely’ done and could be put to the Cabinet
Trade Secretary Liam Fox (left) is said to have discussed concerns with fellow Brexiteers in his office last night. Aid Secretary Penny Mordaunt (right) yesterday insisted the Cabinet would act as a ‘check’ on what kind of deal the premier agrees to
Dominic Raab (pictured right in Downing Street with Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson today) has apparently being trying to harden the resolve of colleagues by assuring them that a no-deal Brexit can be ‘managed’
Mr Raab is said to have met for drinks with other senior Brexiteers in Trade Secretary Liam Fox’s office last night to discuss their concerns.
Mrs May told the audience at Guildhall in London that while both sides wanted a viable withdrawal agreement, ‘what we are negotiating is immensely difficult’.
She added: ‘Overwhelmingly, the British people want us to get on with delivering Brexit, and I am determined to deliver for them.
‘I want them to know that I will not compromise on what people voted for in the referendum. This will not be an agreement at any cost.’
She repeated her assertion that a deal must give the UK control of ‘our laws, borders and money’, plus the freedom to strike trade deals while protecting jobs, security and the Union.
The growing Remainer backlash against Brexit was illustrated last week when Jo Johnson, brother of former foreign secretary Boris, quit as transport minister demanding a second referendum.
Writing in The Times, he said what was being offered was a false choice ‘between vassalage and chaos’ and backed the campaign for a People’s Vote.
Mr Johnson said: ‘We’re today in the extraordinary position where even the staunchest advocates of Brexit, including my brother Boris, publicly admit we’d be better off staying in the EU than with the PM’s deal.’
‘That’s why the argument the government will present for its hopeless package is not that it is better for Britain than our current membership.
‘The only case she (Mrs May) can try to make is that it is better than the alternative of leaving the EU with no deal at all. Well, that’s a low bar indeed.
‘How have our ambitions for our country fallen this far this fast? We can and must do better.’
In a move that could either provide a boost or an additional headache for Mrs May, senior EU officials are due to discuss whether UK citizens should be required to obtain a GBP52 (60 euro) visa to enter the EU after Brexit.
The college of commissioners will meet in Strasbourg where they will receive an update on Brexit negotiations from Mr Barnier.
But also due to be on the agenda is whether Britain should be treated as a ‘third country’ whose citizens would require a permit to visit the continent.
Who are the Cabinet ministers who could resign over Brexit and how damaging would their exits be?
With the Brexit deal thrashed out in principle between the UK and EU negotiating teams, Theresa May now faces the tough challenge of getting her Cabinet to support it.
Here are the Cabinet ministers who Number Ten fear could walk over the agreement, and an assessment of how damaging their departures could be.
The Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey (pictured in Downing St today) is one of the Cabinet’s leading Brexiteers
Esther McVey, Work and Pensions Secretary
Ms McVey is one of the cabinet’s leading Brexiteers.
She was said to have been unhappy at the way the Brexit talks were heading fearing that the plan for an Irish border backstop could keep Britain trapped inside the EU customs union.
She was only promoted to the Cabinet in January this year, is not a household name, and did not play a big role in the Leave campaign as she did not have a parliamentary seat when the Brexit referendum was run.
Damage score: 4/10
As Britain’s second Brexit Secretary in six months, Dominic Raab (pictured in Downing Street today) is a central player in the Cabinet
Dominic Raab, Brexit Secretary
As Britain’s second Brexit Secretary in six months, Mr Raab is a central player in the Cabinet.
The ardent Brexiteer was one of the faces of the Vote Leave campaign, and was promoted to his post in June after David Davis quit in fury at the Chequers plan.
While he has maintained his loyalty to Theresa May publicly, he has been a fierce critic of EU blocking the UK from ensuring it could leave the EU customs union unilaterally. Losing a second Brexit Secretary in six months would be hugely damaging to the PM.
Damage score : 9/10
Andrea Leadsom (pictured in Downing Street last month) was a leading face with Vote Leave
Andrea Leadsom, leader of the Commons
Another leading campaigner with the Vote leave campaign, she had been a contender for the Tory leadership before withdrawing – clearing the way for Theresa May’s coronation.
She is a committed Brexiteer who has largely kept out of the rows over the PM’s strategy. But she pointedly refused to back Mrs May to stay on as Prime Minister in the long-run last month.
Damage Score: 6/10
Michael Gove (pictured in Downing St yesterday) was the frontman of the Vote Leave campaign alongside Boris Johnson
Michael Gove, Environment Secretary
Alongside Boris Johnson, Micheal Gove was the frontman of the Vote Leave campaign – breaking ranks with his long-time and close friend David Cameron to campaign to quit the EU.
After the resignations of Mr Johnson and David Davis, he is one of the final leading Brexiteers still sticking with Mrs May and in the Cabinet.
His resignation would be a body bow to the PM – and a sign that she had finally lost support of most of the Brexiteer wing of her party.
Damage Score: 9/10
Penny Mordaunt (pictured in Downing Street) never explicitly backed Theresa May’s Chequers Brexit plan – only saying that she backed the PM.
Penny Mordaunt, International Development Secretary
A leading Brexiteer popular with Tory MPs, Penny Mordaunt was promoted to the Cabinet last November.
She never explicitly backed Theresa May’s Chequers Brexit plan – only saying that she backed the PM.
She is often named as one of the Cabinet ministers most likely to walk over Brexit – but if she does goshe risks cutting her cabinet career short.
Damage Score: 5/10
Liam Fox (pictured in Downing Street yesterday) long-time Brexiteer, he was one of the trio of leading Eurosceptics – alongside Boris Johnson and David Davis – elevated to the Cabinet after Theresa May was made Tory leader
Liam Fox, International Trade Secretary
A long-time Brexiteer, he was one of the trio of leading Eurosceptics – alongside Boris Johnson and David Davis – elevated to the Cabinet after Theresa May was made Tory leader.
He has largely stayed out of the political Brexit rows which have plunged the PM’s government into one crisis after another.
But if he did quit it would show that Mrs May is losing her influence over the Brexiteers.
Damage Score: 6/10
Who were the key power brokers on each side of the talks?
Both Britain and the EU had teams of negotiators hammering out the final stages of the deal working late into the night.
The two sides were led by a group of powerful individuals at the head of small armies of officials tasked with turning political deals into cold legal text.
In the final days the teams have worked until the small hours to finalise a deal that could be put to an emergency summit later this month. Talks on Sunday night ran until 2.45am.
The final deal is thought to be at least 500 pages long and civil servants on both sides have spent months hammering out the detailed legal language.
The treaty includes clauses on the divorce payment, rights of nationals on both sides and crucially how the Irish border will work.
The key players on each side were:
Drafted in to replace David Davis in July, Raab was ordered to deliver the Chequers plan as Theresa May’s political representative in the talks.
A committed Brexiteer, he was part of the Vote Leave campaign and leading DEXEU was his first Cabinet job.
Unlike his predecessor, Raab was explicitly appointed to deputise for the Prime Minister in the talks rather than personally lead them – but has been the point man in Brussels.
Prime Minister’s Europe adviser
At around 6ft 3in, the burly civil servant certainly looks like he won’t be messed with, but is best known in Whitehall for his intellect.
Only 43, the Oxford PPE graduate has already served in senior roles for David Cameron, Theresa May and Gordon Brown.
Brexiteers have repeatedly criticised him for dragging the talks toward a soft deal.
Chief EU Brexit negotiator
A seasoned French official was once called an ‘enemy of Britain’ for trying to impose controls on the City.
Ambitious, he is distrusted in some UK quarters, but is also known as an ultra-charming negotiator.
Brexit role has made him a ‘rock star’ figure in Brussels.
Promised a hard-line approach throughout the talks and never deviated from the rules handed to him by EU leaders.
Michel Barnier’s deputy
A former student at Cambridge in the 1980s and seen as one ‘the best and brightest’ of the Brussels technocrats.
The German has more than 20 years’ experience carving out trade deals for the Commission.
Can be brusque but is known as a problem-solver.
Brexit Secretary DOominic Raab and EU negotiator Michel Barnier have led the teams finalising the deal in recent weeks