One Nation Tory moderates believe they have won a concession from Boris Johnson that the party will not campaign for a No deal Brexit at the upcoming general election.
Amid reports that scores of backbenchers could quit in a revolt over the hardline tactic a group led by ex-Minister Damian Green met the Prime Minister in Downing Street today.
At the moment the PM’s publicly stated preference is for the UK to leave the EU on October 31 with a deal.
But Brussels has effectively rejected Mr Johnson’s ‘final offer’ to break the deadlock, putting both sides on course of a disorderly divorce.
Downing Street sources have suggested the Tories could now switch to formally campaigning for a No Deal Brexit.
However, if the PM does agree to such an approach it could prompt a major shake up of his top team and even a potential exodus of moderate Tory MPs who would rather quit than fight a general election on a No Deal ticket.
After today’s meeting Mr Green said: ‘What we are saying now is that clearly the manifesto is in preparation and we want to make it as clear as possible that we do not want to see No Deal in that manifesto and the Prime Minister agreed with us that he didn’t want to see No Deal in that manifesto.
‘So I think we can be confident that the idea that the government would go into a general election saying what we want is No Deal – which is the Brexit Party policy – that will not be the Conservative Party policy.’
It came as speculation mounted about the Government’s plans after it decided to make MPs sit on Saturday October 19, the day after the emergency EU Brexit summit.
It is the first time the Commons has sat at a weekend since the Falklands War.
After today’s meeting Mr Green said the PM had ‘agreed with us that he didn’t want to see No Deal in that manifesto’.
Boris Johnson, pictured outside 10 Downing Street yesterday, could switch to formally backing a No Deal Brexit after the EU rebuffed his plans
Robert Buckland (pictured left in Downing Street yesterday) and Matt Hancock are both believed to be on a Number 10 ‘resignation watch list’
Nicky Morgan (pictured in Downing Street yesterday) is also believed to be on the list along with Julian Smith
Downing Street has put five Cabinet ministers on a ‘resignation watch list’ amid a growing rebellion over whether Mr Johnson will switch to formally backing a No Deal Brexit.
Nicky Morgan, Robert Buckland, Geoffrey Cox, Julian Smith and Matt Hancock are all believed to be on Number 10’s quit list as tensions grow over the government’s Brexit strategy.
Tensions reportedly bubbled over at a ‘fractious’ meeting of the Cabinet yesterday as a number of ministers raised concerns about the risk of a return to direct rule in Northern Ireland.
Concerns were also apparently raised about the influence of Mr Johnson’s top aide Dominic Cummings, according to The Times.
One Cabinet minister told the newspaper: ‘Cabinet will set the strategy, not un-elected officials.
‘If this is an attempt to do that then it will fail. We are not a Cabinet of sock puppets and nodding dogs.’
Another Cabinet minister said it would be ‘very hard’ for them to stay in the government if the Tories decided to become a No Deal party.
They also predicted a ‘very large number’ of Tory MPs would quit if Mr Johnson campaigned for a bad break from Brussels.
There is increasing speculation that the PM will ditch attempts to strike a deal with the EU in the coming days after his proposals were effectively killed off in a furious phone call with German chancellor Angela Merkel.
Ms Merkel reportedly said that Northern Ireland would have to stay in the EU’s customs union to avoid a hard border and for a deal to be agreed but Mr Johnson refused on the grounds that would separate Ulster from the rest of the UK.
Meanwhile, the suggestion the Tories could commit to a No Deal Brexit as their preferred outcome was bolstered by a bombshell briefing from a Number 10 source earlier this week.
The source told The Spectator magazine that if the EU rejects the PM’s proposals and then offers a Brexit delay, Number 10 will ‘make clear that this government will not negotiate further so any delay would be totally pointless’.
Mr Smith, the Northern Ireland Secretary, appeared to hint at his red lines for staying in the Cabinet in a tweet sent yesterday
Geoffrey Cox, pictured leaving Downing Street yesterday, has reportedly threatened to quit the Cabinet if the PM does not comply with an anti-No Deal law
The source continued: ‘They think now that if there is another delay we will keep coming back with new proposals. This won’t happen.
‘We’ll either leave with No Deal on 31 October or there will be an election and then we will leave with No Deal.’
Mr Smith appeared to hint at his red lines for remaining as Northern Ireland Secretary yesterday when he tweeted: ‘I am clear that any threat on withdrawing security cooperation with Ireland is unacceptable. This is not in the interest of NI or the Union.’
Ms Morgan, the Culture Secretary, has previously outlined her opposition to a No Deal Brexit and surprised many in Westminster when she accepted a job in Mr Johnson’s Cabinet given his stance that a bad break must be an option.
Mr Hancock, the Health Secretary, has also previously opposed a No Deal split but subsequently dropped that opposition.
Both Mr Cox and Mr Buckland, as Attorney General and Justice Secretary respectively, would be likely to quit if Mr Johnson tried to dodge or frustrate an anti-No Deal law passed by MPs.