THEY had come to do business, to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in to finally, once and for all, sort out this uncomfortable Brexit mess.

But an army marches on its stomach. And this one – albeit one made up of UK Government ministers each with a personal war plan – was no different.

And so, in the opulent splendour of Chequers, the 16th century Buckinghamshire country home of Prime Ministers since 1921, surrounded by fine art and expensive antiques, in rooms where history has unfolded and life-changing decisions made, the Cabinet put aside European rivalries and sat down to dinner.

Not just any dinner. This was a very British dinner, the kind that piled on extra helpings of national pride, a sprinkling of patriotism and a hefty dollop of ‘no garlic thanks, we’re British’.

All four corners of the UK were represented on the menu: the Scottish smoked salmon starter had been cured over Irish whiskey barrel chips; the beef fillet arrived from Oxfordshire and tipped its hat to Wales with a side dish of baby leeks. To round it off there were lashings of marmalade flavoured bread and butter pudding served with English custard.

Not a French jus or beurre blanc to be seen, all made by an Oldham Athletic supporting-chef called Graham and served up in the wood-panelled dining room where everyone from Boris Yeltsin to Geri Halliwell have gathered.

Short of waving Union Flags and singing Land of Hope and Glory, last night's Cabinet dinner at Chequers probably couldn’t get any more steadfastly British.

For some, of course, there may have been an air of condemned prisoner’s final meal about it all. Like an episode of The Apprentice, the warning had already gone out that those rebels who felt unable to toe the line would face the indignity and shame of returning home minus their ministerial car, in a humble taxi instead.

A no-nonsense warning from No 10 issued just as ministers’ sleek black government cars began to make their funereal procession along the Buckinghamshire country roads earlier in the day had made it clear that they were expendable. Word had gone out - “their spots will be taken by a talented new generation of MPs who will sweep them away.” Who this “talented new generation” might be, was not divulged.

The crunch summit of the full cabinet was designed to finally agree the Brexit white paper, to not so much ‘iron out’ the disagreements but to flatten them with a steamroller.

The high-stakes showdown was expected to last at least 12 hours, during which ministers were asked to approve a plan which would see the UK sign up to EU rules on agriculture and food – potentially making it harder to strike a post-Brexit trade deal with the US.

The plan, set out by Mrs May in a document more than 100 pages long, had sparked rage in the Leave camp and prompted speculation that Cabinet Brexiteers could be ready to walk out of the Government.

With the scene set for a showdown, Chequers, with all its historic clout, was the only possible battleground.

But before yesterday’s talks could begin, like irresponsible teenagers with a social media fixation on exam day, ministers had to hand over their mobile phones and smart watches - just in case anyone felt the need to tweet, share or just blurt out.

By lunchtime they had consumed their opening session. Titled “The Available Outcomes in Light of the EU’s Current Position”, the presentation from the UK’s negotiating team was meant to hammer home the message that there is no realistic prospect of driving a wedge between Michel Barnier and the European Commission and the leaders of the EU 27 on the key issues of trade.

For those with any appetite left, a buffet lunch of barbecue chicken thighs, clotted cream scones and sticky tea loaf awaited - no Eton Mess, presumably as everyone has already had their fill of that. Afterwards some drifted outside to trade thoughts under blistering sun and blue skies.

Back inside, the Cabinet gathered inside the Great Hall, where a treasure trove of art and collectibles reflect decades of political history; from the grand piano which was one of the few features of Chequers which met with Sir Winston Churchill’s approval, to the portrait just above the massive marble fireplace depicting Sir Henry Croke, the 17th century Clerk of the Pipe in the Exchequer who was responsible for the rolls of paper on which the government’s spending and income were recorded.

In the middle of it all, jacket off, tie posted awol, shirt sleeves rolled up for business and shirt buttons undone, Boris Johnson adopted a far more casual demeanour than his Cabinet colleagues.

Many of the paintings, tapestries and antiquities what fill Chequers have been collected over a 300-year period when the estate was owned by a succession of noblemen.

When the last ancestreal owner, Henry Delavel Astley, died in 1912, the estate was bought by American heiress Ruth Lee for her British husband Arthur. He set about building up a collection of portraits of late 16th to 18th century ‘heroes’ including Sir Walter Raleigh, Prince Rupert, Sir Francis Bacon and the Duke of Welllington, before giving the home to the nation as a weekend retreat for UK Prime Ministers.

Perhaps ironically given the very British menu, many of the works of art hanging in the two storey tall Great Hall – including the portrait of Sir Henry Croke - are by the hand of Flemish, Dutch and French artists.

While the talks continued into the afternoon and evening, rooms which have witnessed War Cabinets gather, where in December 1984 Margaret Thatcher welcomed an up and coming Soviet politician Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife Raisa on their first visit to a western capitalist country, where US presidents and pop stars have mingled, another little bit of British history was being made.

And for some Cabinet members, today may well come with a different kind of British menu – sour grapes, egg on face and spilt milk.