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Theresa May secures backing from cabinet for 'soft Brexit'

Ministers reach 'collective' agreement on the basis of the UK's future relationship with the European Union.

Theresa May

British Prime Minister Theresa May has secured approval from her cabinet to negotiate "a business-friendly" deal to leave the European Union but drew anger from hardline 'Brexiteers' and members of the opposition over her strategy to leave the bloc.

After a marathon 12-hour meeting at her Chequers residence on Friday, the prime minister seemed to have persuaded the most vocal Brexit campaigners in her cabinet to back plans for a new UK-EU agreement.

In a statement released late in the evening, she said the 26 cabinet members in attendance reached a "collective" agreement that would see the UK agree to negotiate a "common rulebook for all goods" in a combined customs territory.

May said her cabinet also agreed to negotiate for regulations for industrial and agri-food goods, ending the free movement of people, the supremacy of the European court and "vast" payments to the bloc.

"This is a proposal that I believe will be good for the UK and good for the EU and I look forward to it being received positively," she told reporters.

'Fake Brexit'

However, Tory Brexiteers voiced concern at the agreement, with the chairman of the campaign group 'Leave Means Leave' accusing May of personally deceiving Brexit campaigners.

"May's Brexit means BRINO - 'Brexit In Name Only' - a fake Brexit," John Longworth said.

Meanwhile, pro-EU Labour politician Chuka Umunna described it as "yet another behind-closed-doors stitch up that would leave us all worse off."

The Times newspaper said, without citing sources, that May was taking a hard line and had promised senior allies that she would sack Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, a Brexit supporter, if he tried "to undermine the peace deal".

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who previously suggested the EU would be willing to shift its position if the UK relaxed some of its "red lines", welcomed the agreement on Twitter.

"We will assess proposals to see if they are workable and realistic," he said.

'No clue'

With nine months before Britain leaves and just over three before the EU says it wants a deal, May has been under intense pressure from the bloc and from many businesses to show her negotiating position.

As she held the crisis talks with her ministers, the chief executive of European plane maker Airbus, Tom Enders, accused the government of having "no clue or at least consensus on how to execute Brexit without severe harm".

May was cautious on whether she would win the support of the EU, saying only that she had "been talking to European leaders over the last week or so".

She seems to have reassured pro-Brexit ministers that under the new negotiating position Britain will still be able to seek trade deals with the rest of the world, easing fears that mirroring EU rules for goods would rule that out.

They may also have been reassured by May reiterating her belief that any agreement with the EU should end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, although British courts would still have to "pay due regard" to its rulings.

The agreed negotiating position gave parliament a big role to decide whether Britain should continue to follow EU rules and regulations, recognising that any rejection of them "would have consequences".

"This is a further step, an important further step, in our negotiations with the European Union," she said.

"But of course we still have worked to do with the EU in ensuring that we get to that endpoint in October. But this is good."


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