Five hours of cabinet discussion produced several memorable moments. Esther McVey’s push for a formal vote, I understand, went on for several minutes and ended with Mark Sedwill, the new Cabinet Secretary, looking up the rules on procedure. Perhaps more worryingly for No. 10, both Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, and Dominic Raab, the Brexit Secretary, urged Theresa May to go to Brussels and get more before putting the deal to Parliament.
Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, was his usual colourful self. His argument was that this life raft, constructed of oil drums and a plastic sail, needed to make it out on to the open ocean. But when those in favour are calling it an ‘ugly sister’ deal you know there are going to be problems down the line.
David Lidington argued that ministers shouldn’t get hung up on the exit mechanism from the backstop. He pointed out that before the Lisbon Treaty there wasn’t — formally — a way to leave the EU but Parliament could still have done so.
Interestingly, I understand that two of the former Remainers round the table said they would vote against no deal if it came to Parliament. This was clearly part of an attempt to remind Brexiteers that there’s no parliamentary majority for no deal.
I am told that the Prime Minister spoke a lot more than she usually does in cabinet, taking care to rebut points as they were made. She, I understand, insisted that the UK would still end up having an independent trade policy at the end of all this. But the fact that roughly a third of those around the table expressed serious reservations about the deal, shows how hard it will be to get the withdrawal agreement through Parliament.