EMBATTLED Theresa May has defied the odds to secure the backing of her fractious Cabinet and pursue a “softer Brexit” during a high-stakes summit, that will set the course for Britain’s future relationship with the EU.

Amid talk of mass resignations, the Prime Minister performed a political high-wire act to finally agree a deal to align Britain’s rules with the rest of Europe on goods, including agricultural produce; a move set to confound her critics and infuriate hard Brexiteers, who claimed this would make the UK a “vassal state” of the EU.

After almost 12 hours of thrashing out the pros and cons of her proposed customs plan during a Cabinet away-day in her country retreat at Chequers, Mrs May issued a dramatic statement.

She said: “Today in detailed discussions, the Cabinet has agreed our collective position for the future of our negotiations with the EU.

“Our proposal will create a UK-EU free trade area, which establishes a common rule-book for industrial goods and agricultural products. This maintains high standards in these areas but we will also ensure that no new changes in the future take place without the approval of our Parliament.

“As a result, we avoid friction in terms of trade, which protects jobs and livelihoods, as well as meeting our commitments in Northern Ireland.”

She went on: “We have also agreed a new business-friendly customs model with freedom to strike new trade deals around the world.

“Next week we will be publishing a White Paper, which will set out more details of how we will be taking back control of our money, laws and borders.

“Now we must all move at pace to negotiate our proposal with the EU to deliver the prosperous and secure future all our people deserve,” added Mrs May, who is expected to make a Commons statement on Monday to set out in detail to MPs her proposed way forward on Brexit.

Despite talk of possible resignations by the likes of Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, and David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, none had materialised.

Earlier, Nicola Sturgeon suggested how the best outcome of the Chequers summit would have been the resignation of the Cabinet’s “hard Brexiteers” as this might have signalled a “glimmer of hope that common sense starts to prevail”.

The First Minister warned the worst outcome would be if Mrs May’s colleagues emerged “arm in arm, saying they've agreed, because that means there's another helping of fudge being served up”.

She added if the outcome of the Cabinet’s marathon session was simply an agreement that satisfied the apparently irreconcilable wings of the Tory government, then the “danger is…that it will be dead on arrival in Brussels and we will be no further forward in reaching agreement" with the EU27.

Over a dinner of whiskey and treacle-cured Scottish salmon, Mrs May and her senior colleagues put the finishing touches to their Cabinet deal, which some colleagues and pundits believed impossible. Talk among Brexiteers beforehand had claimed that the PM’s facilitated customs arrangement – a hybrid of the two previous options – was “not full Brexit” and that regulatory alignment with the EU on goods would prevent the UK from striking its own future trade deals.

However, perhaps in a key sign of the agreement to come, Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary, broke off from a meeting of Brexiteers on Thursday night, organised by Mr Johnson at the Foreign Office, to have private talks with the PM, who sought to reassure him that under her compromise plan future trade deals would be possible. He emerged “content” with her plan.

Key now will be how Brussels reacts. Earlier, Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, said that he was ready to adapt the EU27's stance in response to any changes to the UK's "red lines".

Meanwhile, it emerged at a meeting at London’s Carlton Club on Thursday night, David Cameron persuaded Mr Johnson not to resign, saying Mrs May’s third-way customs plan was the only one the Commons would accept.

While the PM was thrashing out her plan with colleagues at Chequers, her predecessor was watching thrashing of a sporting kind.

Mr Cameron was looking tanned and relaxed in a smart suit and sunglasses in the Royal Box at Wimbledon alongside his mother Mary and a previous Foreign Secretary, Lord Hague.