Latest: Brexit ‘war cabinet’ concludes without agreement on trade among ministers

Update 3.22pm: The Brexit "war cabinet" has concluded without senior ministers agreeing a position on what trade relationship Britain should pursue with the European Union during exit negotiations, it is understood.

The Cabinet ministers most closely involved with Brexit talks began discussing options for the future UK-EU relationship in a Downing Street meeting which lasted a little more than an hour and a half.

Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Liam Fox, alongside Gavin Williamson, who backed Remain in the referendum, were understood to be vocal on the need to "diverge" from EU regulations.

            

It is believed "soft" Brexit backers such as Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd leaned further towards "alignment" with Brussels rules to maintain close ties with the EU in the future.

Ministers did not agree a position but there was discussion of the potential for "gradual divergence" - a step-by-step move away from EU laws after Brexit and the conclusion of a subsequent implementation period in 2021.

Further talks on the future relationship are planned for Cabinet European Union Exit and Trade Committee meetings in the new year.

The meeting came as a senior adviser to EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned that Britain could not pursue "sector-by-sector" participation in the European single market.

Stefaan De Rynck also rejected a "buffet-style" transition away from EU membership "where one picks and chooses the bits one likes", in an event at Chatham House in central London.

Mr Barnier has also made clear Britain will not be able to "cherry-pick" advantages of different trading models with the EU.

He told Prospect magazine: "We won't mix up the various scenarios to create a specific one and accommodate their wishes, mixing, for instance, the advantages of the Norwegian model, member of the single market, with the simple requirements of the Canadian one.

"No way. They have to face the consequences of their own decision."

David Davis and Michel Barnier

But Theresa May's official spokesman made clear her commitment to pursuing a bespoke deal away from pre-existing models such as Norway-style membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) or a Canadian-style free trade deal on goods

He told a regular Westminster briefing: "We believe that we can secure an ambitious deal with the EU that works for the UK and for the European Union and that we come at this from a unique perspective in the sense that we already have a strong relationship with the European Union from which to build upon."

Foreign Secretary Mr Johnson used an interview with the Sunday Times to make his position clear - that mirroring Brussels laws after Brexit would leave the UK a "vassal state" of the EU.

Brexit Secretary David Davis has described his vision of the deal as "Canada, plus, plus, plus" - taking in not only trade but services and co-operation in other areas.

In a Commons statement on Monday, Mrs May will tell MPs the UK will seek to sign trade deals with countries around the world despite potentially being bound by EU rules for around two years after Brexit.

The PM will say even though the UK is leaving the single market and customs union in March 2019 she wants "access to one another's markets" to continue "as now" during an implementation period.

The EU's guidelines say that during any transition period the UK would have to comply with the bloc's trade policy - preventing it from striking its own deals with other countries.

But Mrs May will say the UK wants to sign agreements which would come into force after the "strictly time-limited" period has ended.

Earlier, the PM's official spokesman stressed her commitment to "maintaining and where possible enhancing" workers' rights after Brexit.

He appeared to dismiss reports that ministers would use Monday's meeting to demand an end to the EU Working Time Directive, which limits the working week to 48 hours.

"I wouldn't anticipate it's part of the cabinet discussion," he told a regular Westminster briefing.

Update 1.04am: Theresa May committed on maintaining workers’ rights, as Brexit ‘war cabinet’ meets

Theresa May is committed to maintaining workers' rights after Brexit and UK Cabinet ministers are not expected to discuss EU regulations which limit the working week to 48 hours at a crunch meeting, Downing Street said.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman reiterated her commitment to "maintaining and where possible enhancing workers' rights" as senior ministers began thrashing out plans for a post-Brexit UK-EU trade deal.

A meeting of the Brexit "war cabinet" - formally called the Cabinet European Union Exit and Trade Committee - was taking place on Monday, with a full Cabinet on Tuesday, as ministers consider the relationship the Government wants with the EU.

              

The spokesman dismissed reports that Brexit-backing ministers could demand an end to the EU Working Time Directive, which limits the working week to 48 hours.

"I wouldn't anticipate it's part of the Cabinet discussion," he told a regular Westminster briefing.

The spokesman added: "The Government position on this is clear - as part of the Withdrawal Bill those existing EU regulations are being moved over into UK law and going forward I've got nothing to add beyond the Prime Minister's stated words that she's committed to maintaining and where possible enhancing workers' rights."

The Brexit Cabinet committee meeting will potentially see a clash between ministers who favour the closest possible ties with the EU in future - requiring continued alignment with Brussels' regulations - and those who seek a looser arrangement giving the UK more flexibility to strike favourable deals around the world.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has made clear Britain will not be able to "cherry-pick" advantages of different trading models with the EU.

  

He told Prospect magazine: "They have to realise there won't be any cherry picking.

"We won't mix up the various scenarios to create a specific one and accommodate their wishes, mixing, for instance, the advantages of the Norwegian model, member of the single market, with the simple requirements of the Canadian one.

"No way. They have to face the consequences of their own decision."

But Mrs May's spokesman made clear her commitment to a bespoke deal away from pre-existing models such as Norway-style membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) or a Canadian-style free trade deal on goods

He said: "We believe that we can secure an ambitious deal with the EU that works for the UK and for the European Union and that we come at this from a unique perspective in the sense that we already have a strong relationship with the European Union from which to build upon."

In an early indication of his position on the future relationship, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told the Sunday Times: "What we need to do is something new and ambitious, which allows zero tariffs and frictionless trade but still gives us that important freedom to decide our own regulatory framework, our own laws and do things in a distinctive way in the future."

He said that if Britain were forced to mirror EU laws after Brexit "we would have gone from a member state to a vassal state".

Brexit Secretary David Davis has described his vision of the deal as "Canada, plus, plus, plus" - taking in not only trade but services and co-operation in other areas.

   

In a Commons statement on Monday, Mrs May will tell MPs that the UK will seek to sign trade deals with countries around the world despite potentially being bound by EU rules for around two years after Brexit.

The PM will say even though the UK is leaving the single market and customs union in March 2019 she wants "access to one another's markets" to continue "as now" during an implementation period.

The EU's guidelines say that during any transition period the UK would have to comply with the bloc's trade policy - preventing it from striking its own deals with other countries.

But Mrs May will say the UK wants to sign agreements which would come into force after the "strictly time-limited" period has ended.

"We will prepare for our future independent trade policy by negotiating - and where possible signing - trade deals with third countries, which could come into force after the conclusion of the implementation period," she will say as she updates the Commons on a Brussels summit which saw her 27 EU counterparts agree to move on to the next phase of Brexit talks.

Tory Brexiteer and former cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith said the Government should be looking beyond the EU to form new trade links.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "l don't buy this idea of a fixed position in the world. It's not a case of less trade, it's a case of a different type of trade, and British business will have to learn, as they do, to get by in a different world.

"And to bear in mind, we are looking to make trade arrangements which will make life easier for us with other markets. So, you have to look at these things no longer in a case of just the European Union."

Original story (9.52am): May vows to seek trade deals with other countries despite EU rules 

Theresa May will tell British MPs that the UK will seek to sign trade deals with countries around the world despite potentially being bound by European Union rules for around two years after Brexit.

The UK prime minister will say that even though the UK is leaving the single market and customs union in March 2019 she wants "access to one another's markets" to continue "as now" during an implementation period.

The EU's guidelines say that during any transition period the UK would have to comply with the bloc's trade policy - preventing it from striking its own deals with other countries.

But Mrs May will say the UK wants to sign agreements which would come into force after the "strictly time-limited" period has ended.

"We will prepare for our future independent trade policy by negotiating - and where possible signing - trade deals with third countries, which could come into force after the conclusion of the implementation period," she will say as she updates the Commons on a Brussels summit which saw her 27 EU counterparts agree to move on to the next phase of Brexit talks.

Mrs May and her senior ministers will also begin the process of thrashing out the British government's plans for a post-Brexit UK-EU trade deal as Brussels indicated she may not get the "special partnership" she wants.

A meeting of the Brexit "war cabinet" - formally called the Cabinet European Union Exit and Trade Committee - will take place on Monday, with a full Cabinet on Tuesday, as ministers formally consider the relationship the Government wants with the EU.

The British prime minister will say there is a "shared desire" between the UK and EU for "rapid progress on an implementation period" before any UK-EU deal comes fully into effect.

The EU's negotiating position makes clear that the bloc expects the UK to observe all of its rules - including on freedom of movement - and accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) during this time.

Mrs May will say that "we would not be in the single market or the customs union, as we will have left the European Union" but "we would propose that our access to one another's markets would continue as now".

Indicating that free movement rules will not continue in exactly the same way, she will say that "during this period we intend to register new arrivals from the EU as preparation for our future immigration system".

Prominent Eurosceptics on the Tory benches have already warned against accepting an implementation period which would leave the UK bound by EU laws without a say over how they are made.

The Brexit Cabinet committee meeting will potentially see a clash between ministers who favour the closest possible ties with the EU in future - requiring ongoing alignment with Brussels' regulations - and those who seek a looser arrangement giving the UK more flexibility to strike favourable deals around the world.

In an early indication of his position, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told the Sunday Times: "What we need to do is something new and ambitious, which allows zero tariffs and frictionless trade but still gives us that important freedom to decide our own regulatory framework, our own laws and do things in a distinctive way in the future."

He said that if Britain were forced to mirror EU laws after Brexit "we would have gone from a member state to a vassal state".

Mrs May has rejected pre-existing models for a future UK-EU relationship such as Norway-style membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) or a Canadian-style free trade deal on goods.

UK Brexit Secretary David Davis described his vision of the deal as "Canada, plus, plus, plus" - taking in not only trade but services and co-operation in other areas.

But the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told Prospect magazine: "They have to realise there won't be any cherry picking. We won't mix up the various scenarios to create a specific one and accommodate their wishes, mixing, for instance, the advantages of the Norwegian model, member of the single market, with the simple requirements of the Canadian one.

"No way. They have to face the consequences of their own decision."

The complexity of the Brexit process - and the potential for the UK's separation not to be fully realised until 2021 - could keep Mrs May in Downing Street because any leadership change could thwart the delicate negotiations, The Times suggested.

One cabinet minister told the newspaper: "There is no clean and simple moment when she will or can leave. I think the leadership contest will be pushed back and back."

Meanwhile the Guardian reported that Tory Brexit rebels have urged Mrs May to reach out to Labour MPs to form a consensus on a "soft" exit from the EU.

One rebel reportedly said independent-minded Labour MPs would "respond positively to a request to provide support to a government that is seen to be doing the right thing".

Tory former Cabinet minister and leading Leave campaigner Iain Duncan Smith told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "l don't buy this idea of a fixed position in the world. It's not a case of less trade, it's a case of a different type of trade, and British business will have to learn, as they do, to get by in a different world.

"And to bear in mind, we are looking to make trade arrangements which will make life easier for us with other markets. So, you have to look at these things no longer in a case of just the European Union."

KEYWORDS: Brexit, Theresa May

 

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