Boris Johnson has 24 hours to save his Brexit deal after he hammered out a last-minute compromise with the EU but lost the support of his DUP allies.
The Prime Minister must now win over Labour MPs and Conservatives he had thrown out of the parliamentary party in order to get his deal approved.
Opposition parties have threatened to force a referendum on the agreement when MPs gather at Westminster tomorrow for a knife-edge vote on the deal.
In a bid to help convince wavering MPs, EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker warned there would be “no prolongation”.
But he was contradicted by the European Council President Donald Tusk in a blow to the Prime Minister’s hopes of creating a ‘deal or no-deal’ showdown.
Mr Johnson appealed to parliamentarians and the country to “come together” and back his compromise, saying it offered an escape from the “painful” three and a half year Brexit process.
Compromise was struck following three successive days of late-night negotiations as the government scrambled to avoid being forced to ask for a delay to the UK’s 31 October Brexit date, if yesterday’s Brussels summit failed to produce a deal.
“I am very confident that when my colleagues in Parliament study this agreement that they will want to vote for it on Saturday and in succeeding days,” Mr Johnson told a press conference in Brussels last night.
“We’ve been at this now, as I say, for three and a half years. It hasn’t always been an easy experience for the UK. It’s been long, it’s been painful, it’s been divisive. And now is the moment for us as a country to come together. Now is the moment for our parliamentarians to come together and get this thing done.”
The Prime Minister held out the prospect of an additional package of guarantees on workers’ rights in a bid to win over Labour MPs, around a dozen of whom have said they are willing to consider voting for the deal in defiance of their leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Mr Johnson also refused to rule out expelling any Tory MPs who fail to back the deal in Saturday’s vote – the first time parliament has sat at the weekend since the Falklands War. The Prime Minister was set to leave Brussels last night and return to London to begin talks aimed at shoring up support.
He faces an uphill battle after driving away the DUP by agreeing to allow customs checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea, and watering down a proposal that would have given Unionists an effective veto over arrangements along the Irish border.
In a strongly-worded statement, the DUP said the compromises contained in the deal were “not, in our view, beneficial to the economic well-being of Northern Ireland and they undermine the integrity of the Union”.
The party also claimed the deal “drives a coach and horses” through the Good Friday peace agreement.
And senior DUP MP Nigel Dodds issued an angry rebuke to Mr Johnson, saying that “in order to avoid an extension he has been too eager by far to get a deal at any cost”.
As well as winning over Labour rebels to replace the ten lost DUP votes, the Prime Minister must also win over the remaining Brexiteer ‘Spartans’ who ensured Mrs May’s Brexit deal was defeated three times.
Several have indicated they will back the government, but in a warning that the Prime Minister faces a fight for every vote, veteran Eurosceptic Iain Duncan Smith said he was “reserving my position” on the deal until he fully understood the DUP’s objections.
“There are some issues I have already spotted in the political declaration,” Mr Duncan Smith said.
Under the terms of the Benn Act passed by MPs to rule out a no-deal Brexit, if the agreement is voted down by parliament tomorrow, the Prime Minister is still required to request an extension to the 31 October deadline.
A senior UK government source in Brussels said ministers would abide by the terms of the Benn Act, but added that “the UK will be leaving the EU on 31 October”. Mr Johnson refused to say what he would do if the deal is voted down.
Speaking shortly after the breakthrough was announced yesterday morning, Mr Juncker told journalists that the deal “has to” be approved by Parliament.
“If we have a deal, we have a deal and there is no need for prolongation,” he said.
“Anyway, there will be no prolongation,” Mr Juncker added. “We have concluded a deal and so there is not an argument for further delay - it has to be done now.”
But the message was undermined last night by Mr Tusk, who kept the door open to a further Brexit delay.
“If there’s a request for an extension, I would consult member states on how to react,” he said.
The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said the Prime Minister had offered an assurance that he can win tomorrow’s vote.
“[Boris Johnson] said, based on this agreement and the explanations he intends to give, he has the confidence to win that vote,” Mr Barnier said.
Mr Johnson also won a vote of confidence from French President Emmanuel Macron, who told journalists on his way into the summit that he was “reasonably confident [the deal] can be ratified by the British and European parliament.”