After a five-hour Cabinet meeting, Theresa May emerged from Number 10 to say that the Cabinet have decided to back the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration. She admitted that the debate had been ‘impassioned’, which is presumably code for an argument. I gather that about a third of the Cabinet spoke against her deal. The choices, she said, had been difficult, particularly when it came to Northern Ireland. Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt are understood to have spoken against it – to have the Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary against you is quite something.
May then immediately moved to frame the choice as between her deal, no deal and no Brexit. This is how Number 10 will try and sell this agreement over the next few weeks. It is, frankly, the best way for her to try and get MPs to vote for this agreement: not by selling its merits, but by saying it’s better than the alternative.
At the end of her statement, Theresa May said that her job as Prime Minister was to take decisions in the national interest and that she believed head and heart that the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration were in the national interest.
Number 10 will be relieved that the Cabinet have backed this deal, seemingly with no resignations. (So far: remember that David Davis didn’t resign over Chequers until more than 48 hours after that meeting had broken up). If Dominic Raab, the Brexit Secretary, had walked it would have been a disaster for her and, probably, spelled curtains for this deal.
But now comes the even more difficult part, getting this whole thing through the Commons. If a third of her Cabinet spoke against her deal, then it makes you wonder how many in her party will be against it. As I write in my political column in the forthcoming magazine, it is very hard to see how May can get the parliamentary arithmetic to work first time round without either the support of the DUP. Or Labour’s passive acquiescence given the likely size of the Tory rebellions.