Theresa May hosting eight hour crunch Cabinet talk to hammer out Brexit agenda

British Prime Minister Theresa May chairing a Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street in London.

Theresa May is hosting an eight-hour inner Cabinet summit intended to finally thrash out the UK's Brexit objectives after Tory tensions on EU withdrawal broke to the surface again.

The British Prime Minister is heading crunch talks with senior ministers at Chequers on Thursday in a bid to secure a united line on the exit agenda.

The 11-member inner Cabinet Brexit committee will meet at May's country residence to decide a clear negotiating path as talks with Brussels step up a gear.

With the gathering expected to continue late into the evening, Mrs May is aiming to get clear Cabinet consensus on the details of Britain's framework for a future relationship with the EU.

However, there was a setback to Mrs May's plans on the eve of the meeting, as the European Commission released a document explicitly rejecting her "three baskets" approach to future regulatory co-operation.

The approach, set out in her speech in Florence in September, envisages different areas in which the UK would either continue with existing regulatory frameworks, operate its own separate rules largely mirroring those in the EU or diverge significantly from the Brussels regime.

But a set of slides setting out the commission's negotiating position stated: "UK views on regulatory issues in the future relationship including 'three basket approach' are not compatible with the principles in the EuCo (European Council) guidelines."

British attempts to "cherry-pick" EU rules threaten the integrity of the single market, while efforts to preserve UK influence over EU decision-making after Brexit "risk to unsettle the EU 'ecosystem'", the slides warned.

Meanwhile, Labour announced that Jeremy Corbyn will make a significant speech on Brexit policy on Monday, in an apparent attempt to steal a march on the Prime Minister, who is expected to use a high-profile address days later to set out her own vision of Britain's "end state" relationship with the EU.

Mr Corbyn has come under pressure from Labour MPs to provide clarity on his stance on membership of the single market and customs union, and a spokesman said on Wednesday that his thinking on the issue was "evolving and deepening".

The Chequers meeting comes after leaked negotiating guidelines caused concern among Brexiteers, and the Government was forced to dismiss claims it was seeking a more open-ended transition deal after the UK formally quits the trading bloc in March 2019.

The paper stated the length of the "status quo" transition "should be determined simply by how long it will take to prepare and implement the new processes and new systems that will underpin the future partnership", which "points to a period of around two years".

The transition strategy outlined in the documents has not been agreed by the Cabinet, according to reports in The Daily Telegraph.

Writing in the newspaper, leading Leave campaigner Jacob Rees-Mogg said that the document would bring about "Brexit in name only" and be a "perversion of democracy".

Mr Rees-Mogg expressed concern about a lack of attention to immigration in the strategy paper, saying: "Concern over lost control over migration was a significant issue in the referendum.

"Whoever compiled this document proposes no changes to it for an indefinite period and would thereby let down millions of voters.

"To avoid the perversion of democracy that Brexit in name only would be, it is essential that we are able to sign trade deals in the fixed transition period."

The Chequers summit is part of a "road to Brexit" series of events intended to set out the Government's ambitions for a post-withdrawal settlement with the EU.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times reported that the Government is braced for Anglo-Dutch giant Unilever to base a new unified HQ in the Netherlands rather than the UK.

- PA

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