Theresa May has avoided a potentially devastating cabinet resignation after striking a last-minute deal with David Davis over plans to prevent a hard border in Ireland after Brexit.
After a series of meetings with leading Brexiteers in the cabinet, the government published its 'backstop' plans for Northern Ireland stating that the UK "expects" new customs arrangements between the UK and the EU to be in place by December 2021.
Overnight, rumours had circulated that Mr Davis was prepared to quit the government if the backstop, which will keep the UK tied to EU customs rules until a permanent solution is found for the Irish border, was left open-ended.
In a bid to calm Brexiteers, the Prime Minister held one-on-one talks with Mr Davis, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox on Thursday morning ahead of a meeting of the Brexit 'war cabinet' at lunchtime. None of the three Cabinet ministers threatened to resign during their meetings with the PM, Mrs May's spokeswoman said.
The document published on Thursday states that "the UK expects the future arrangement to be in place by the end of December 2021 at the latest."
It adds that there are "a range of options for how a time limit could be delivered, which the UK will propose and discuss with the EU."
Allies of the Brexit Secretary hailed the inclusion of a date as a victory, but the language is not thought to be legally enforceable. The backstop plan is due to be presented to EU negotiators in Brussels by the end of the week. Brussels has said that any end date would be unacceptable.
The UK signed up to a backstop in December following pressure from Ireland and the EU, but has failed to put forward any alternatives since then, leaving it as the only agreed option in the run up to a crucial summit at the end of June.
SNP Europe spokesman Stephen Gethins dismissed the backstop as a "cop out".
"Leaving the EU will have a devastating impact on jobs and the economy and an impact on each and everyone one of us, yet instead of tackling what is clearly becoming a crisis - the Tories are only interested in the crisis that is enveloping their political party," Mr Gethins said. "Today’s compromise is a political cop out, aimed at nothing other than trying to hold the Tory party together."
Labour MP Chris Leslie, who is campaigning for a 'People's Vote' on the final Brexit deal and believes the UK should stay in the single market and customs union, said the row "would be laughable if it weren’t so serious."
Mr Leslie said: "After weeks of the Government negotiating with itself, the fudged document they have produced doesn't engage with any of the key Brexit dilemmas and is highly unlikely to lead to anything but more gridlock in the ongoing talks with the EU."