THERESA May will chair a meeting of her War Cabinet of senior ministers today to try to agree an Irish backstop plan that would keep all of the UK in the European customs union until a full trade deal can be agreed with Brussels.

The plan would also involve keeping Northern Ireland in the single market to help maintain frictionless trade across the border with the Republic while mainland Britain would be outwith the single market.

This, however, would raise the prospect of increased regulation checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Brexiteers and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists reacted angrily to the proposal, which Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said meant a Brexit deal was now “within reach” by next week’s key European Council.

While the UK will effectively stay in the single market and customs union during the transition period up to December 2020, Brexiteers fear the new proposal would keep the UK in the customs union for years thereafter until a full trade deal could be agreed with the EU27.

Boris Johnson, the former Foreign Secretary, said: “This is an important moment. Clearly No10 are negotiating a backstop that makes the UK a permanent EU colony. We cannot escape EU laws & ECJ until they allow us to – which they may never do. That’s not what the biggest majority in our history voted for.”

An angry DUP, whose 10 MPs prop up the Conservative Government, threatened to vote down the Autumn Budget, and last night sent a warning shot by abstaining in a vote on a Labour amendment to the Agriculture Bill.

This followed a fractious meeting of its MPs with Julian Smith, the Government Chief Whip. No 10 made clear if the DUP voted down the Budget, Mrs May would not quit.

Sammy Wilson, the DUP’s Brexit spokesman, warned the PM was pursuing “the road to parliamentary defeat” because his party would vote against any deal that included the proposed backstop, branded a “sell-out”.

Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, noting how the PM was also a Unionist, said: “What is important for us is to say to her very clearly that any impediment on the two-way access in the UK single market would not be good for the Union or the economy of Northern Ireland.”

One complicating factor is that keeping Northern Ireland in the single market would have to be agreed by the Stormont Assembly, which has not met since collapsing in January 2017.

Talk of a draft deal having been agreed in Brussels on the Irish backstop was rubbished by Whitehall insiders, who urged caution.

But Cabinet sources said senior ministers were expected to consider the backstop plan when they met this afternoon with a view to getting the backing of the full Cabinet next Tuesday.

Among those due to attend today’s War Cabinet are: the Prime Minister’s effective deputy David Lidington; Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary; Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary; Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary; Greg Clark, the Business Secretary; Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, and Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary.

It will follow another Whitehall meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee, which will be attended by Mr Lidington and his colleagues Dominic Raab, the Brexit Secretary, and David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary. Michael Russell will be there representing the Scottish Government and is expected to once again sound the alarm about the damage to Scotland’s economy a hard or no-deal Brexit would do.

Last night, it was suggested a group of up to 30 Tory Remainers were considering forming a rival campaign to fight Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group of Eurosceptics with the aim of voting down Mrs May’s Brexit deal because of fears it would wreck the economy.

In the Belgian capital yesterday, Mr Barnier, speaking to a business audience, set out the EU’s Irish border proposal:

*customs and VAT checks would be carried out using existing customs transit procedures to avoid the need for physical inspections at the border;

*companies in the rest of the UK sending goods to Northern Ireland would fill out customs declarations online in advance;

*the only visible systematic checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would involve scanning bar codes on lorries and containers, which could be done on ferries and at transit ports -similar arrangements already exist between mainland Spain and the Canary Islands;

*regulatory checks on industrial goods would be carried out by market surveillance authorities "directly in the market or at the premises of companies in Northern Ireland";

*health and sanitary checks on live animals and animal products "must happen at the border because of food safety and animal health reasons" but these already take place and rather than covering 10 per cent of live animals as at present, they would have to cover 100 per cent.

The EU chief negotiator accepted new administrative procedures for goods travelling between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain would be “politically sensitive” but he noted: “Brexit was not our choice; it is the choice of the UK.”

He warned the UK’s trade proposals would give its companies a "huge competitive edge" over EU rivals.

Mr Barnier claimed Brussels’s proposal helped manage the negative fall-out from Brexit, which respected the territorial integrity of the UK, and gave Northern Ireland benefits “no part of a third country enjoys; in particular, continued access to the single market for goods and continued benefits from EU free trade agreements".

He added: "Agreement is within reach if we have the negotiations on October 17 at the next council meeting. That is why we are interested in maximising an orderly withdrawal and minimising the cost of withdrawal."

At Westminster, Mrs May told MPs that it was “in the national interest” for MPs from all parties to back the deal she brought back from Brussels. 

During PMQs, Ken Clarke, the veteran Europhile, urged her to bring forward a deal acceptable to pro-EU MPs on both sides of the Commons, saying this would expose how the "hardline Eurosceptic views" of Labour’s "Bennite" leadership and the "right-wing Nationalists" on the Tory benches were in the minority in the Commons.