Will the EU countenance Theresa May’s trade plan?

The Brexit 'war cabinet' at Chequers. Credit: Handout

Every senior Cabinet minister “got what they wanted” from Thursday’s supposedly historic meeting to agree the plan the Prime Minister will put to the rest of the European Union for what our future trading relationship with it should be.

Or so at least I am told by well placed sources.

Which means that Johnson, Fox and Gove secured their mechanism for ensuring we can determine our own laws, as they pertain to business, at some point in the future.

And in the meantime Hammond, Rudd and Clark won their demands that rules and regulations pertaining to the City and manufacturing should so closely mirror those of the EU that banks and manufacturers should not have their exporting activities too disrupted by Brexit.

I am told that what was perhaps the most significant thing that happened at Thursday's meeting was that "people who usually don't talk to each other challenged and discussed between sessions, and the PM was good”.

A less dysfunctional and bifurcated cabinet would not be such a terrible thing.

So when Theresa May finally tells the EU what she wants at the end of next week, she will be asking for a trade deal that feels a bit like continued membership of the customs union for some sectors, like the single market in others, and a conventional free trade deal in others.

Theresa May's speech next week will be the 'speech of her life'. Credit: PA

Ministers did not use the term “the three baskets” on Thursday, instead they concentrated on “actual operational consequences”.

But the three baskets remains the best shorthand for what was agreed and fleshed out.

Or in the words of a minister the confection at the end was “a bit of cake and eating it but not out of the park”.

And there is the rub.

The EU Commission and Michel Barnier, who lead the negotiations for the rest of the EU, have explicitly said “no cherry picking, no variable geometry between sectors for the trade relationship, no having cake and eating”.

Now of course the UK officials led by Oliver Robbins will have advised ministers that they can and should ask for more from the EU than they can realistically expect to get: it is a negotiation; and if the UK government isn’t ambitious in its demands then we’ll end up with worse than gruel.

But my sources have given the game away. They concede that what the Prime Minister obtained from the Chequers away-day was a deal to hold her warring cabinet and party together, for a few more weeks at least.

What she hasn’t necessarily got is a plan that will have any traction with other European Union governments.

Which means that the speech she will give at the end of next week revealing and confirming all this will have to be the speech of her life - because it will have to seduce government heads across the Continent and it will simultaneously have to persuade her own MPs that she isn’t betraying them.