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Brexit draft agreement: Westminster mood ‘much, much worse’ than after Chequers


The building may have been different but the choreography was the same as Chequers.

Cabinet ministers locked in for hours as they sought to hammer out a deal – this time on Theresa May’s draft withdrawal agreement; the prime minister emerging, alone, to give the first version of events.

Her cabinet still locked in at No 10, Theresa May took to the stage to declare that after an “impassioned” marathon meeting, her cabinet had come to “collective agreement” to back her plan.

That was her read out, but as her cabinet spilled out, another narrative from that five-hour meeting began to emerge.

Up to 10 cabinet ministers had vocally opposed the plans. She has got it through with majority, rather than unanimous support.

Esther McVey was said to be strident, warning of chaos should the government lose the meaningful vote. Penny Mordaunt made the case for a free vote for parliament to enable negotiations to continue without having a full-blown revolt.

Dominic Raab and Jeremy Hunt reportedly urged her to go back to Brussels to ask for more. David Mundell offered qualified backing, saying his support was contingent on reassurances that the UK will regain control of its fishing quotas.

No immediate resignations, but within an hour of cabinet ending Westminster was awash with talk of who might walk first.

I asked one cabinet source if the mood was as bad this time around as in the aftermath of Chequers. “It’s worse, much much worse.”

It took David Davis until Sunday – 48 hours after the prime minister declared her Chequers trade proposal agreed – to quit cabinet in protest, while Boris Johnson walked on the Monday.

All eyes now are on whether Brexiteers Esther McVey and Penny Mordaunt might go.

But even if Mrs May manages to somehow hold her cabinet together, what of the party? Her Brexiteers were furious over the Chequers deal and have for months been calling on her to change course.

Their mantra has been changing the policy not the person.

In the last 24 hours that position has changed with senior Brexiteers Jacob Rees-Mogg and Conor Burns now suggesting that it might be time to “change the personnel”.

Brexiteer sources now warning that a vote of confidence could be triggered in the coming days as incandescent backbench MPs tender their letters to the chair of the 1922 backbench committee Sir Graham Brady.

“It could happen by accident rather than design,” one senior source told me. “There is nothing coordinated but there doesn’t need to be. MPs know their own minds.”

That Mrs May has managed to strike a deal against the backdrop of a divided country, parliament and party is a considerable achievement.

But by far the biggest hurdle is still to come; getting it through parliament and keeping her job.

(c) Sky News 2018: Brexit draft agreement: Westminster mood ‘much, much worse’ than after Chequers