After more than five hours of being locked away with her Cabinet, Prime Minister Theresa May emerged from her office and in less than five minutes announced she’d wrested their backing for her Brexit deal.
But there was no joy in her voice. Indeed her words, the tone of the delivery, only goes to show how hard-won a victory it was and she gave a sense that it came at some cost. More battles lie ahead: “The choice before us is clear: This deal,” she said “or leave with no deal, or no Brexit at all.”
“I know that there will be difficult days,” she warned. “This is a decision that will come under intense scrutiny and that is entirely as it should be and entirely understandable.”
She mentioned it was a “collective” decision, a careful choice of words that implies it was not unanimous. Indeed some fervent Brexit believers in her split Cabinet were very upset.
Esther McVey was in tears, according to three officials with knowledge of the meeting, who added that the pensions secretary demanded that the Cabinet be given the chance to vote on the deal, only to be chastised by May’s enforcer and chief whip, Julian Smith.
She, Andrea Leadsom — who also wept — and Penny Mordaunt are seen as the most likely to quit in protest, following in the footsteps of colleagues David Davis and Boris Johnson. Indeed the coming hours and days will put on resignation watch as May turns her attention to trying to rally support for her unpopular deal in a Parliament where she has no majority.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid, a key figure, said “I have no idea how we get out of this,” according to one of the officials briefed on the meeting. He asked the premier directly if there was more that could be squeezed out of the EU, but was met with no reply.
May’s parting words give a hint of what her pitch is going to be.
“But if I may end by just saying this: I believe that what I owe to this country is to take decisions that are in the national interest,” she said. “And I firmly believe with my head and my heart that this is a decision which is in the best interests of our entire United Kingdom.”
And with that, she turned on her heels and went back into 10 Downing Street.