Theresa May secures approval from cabinet to negotiate soft Brexit

British ministers agree at Chequers summit to plans for a new EU-UK free trade area

British prime minister Theresa May has secured a cabinet agreement for her plans to leave the European Union. Video: Reuters


Theresa May has persuaded her cabinet to back a soft Brexit, maintaining full regulatory alignment with Europe for goods and agricultural products and treating Britain and the EU as a single customs territory.

A statement issued on Friday at the end of a day-long meeting at Chequers suggested that Britain is ready to reach an early agreement on the so-called backstop to guarantee that the Border remains open.

Ms May said after the meeting that her cabinet had agreed a collective position for the future of Britain’s negotiations with the EU.

“Our proposal will create a UK-EU free trade area which establishes a common rule book for industrial goods and agricultural products. This maintains high standards in these areas, but we will also ensure that no new changes in the future take place without the approval of our parliament,” she said.

“As a result, we avoid friction in terms of trade, which protects jobs and livelihoods, as well as meeting our commitments in Northern Ireland. We have also agreed a new business-friendly customs model with freedom to strike new trade deals around the world.”


Negotiations on Britain’s withdrawal agreement with the EU have been deadlocked on the issue of the Border backstop, with Brussels saying it must apply only to the North and London calling for a UK-wide solution to avoid creating barriers within the UK. The Chequers statement suggests that Britain’s new proposals would help to resolve the issue of the Border so that a backstop could be agreed with Brussels because it will never have to be used.

British prime minister Theresa May and members of her cabinet meet at her country retreat Chequers in Aylesbury, England. Photograph: Joel Rouse/MOD Crown Copyright
British prime minister Theresa May and members of her cabinet meet at her country retreat Chequers in Aylesbury, England. Photograph: Joel Rouse/MOD Crown Copyright

“Such a relationship would see the UK and the EU meet their commitments to Northern Ireland and Ireland through the overall future relationship: preserving the constitutional and economic integrity of the UK; honouring the letter and the spirit of the Belfast Agreement; and ensuring that the operational legal text the UK will nonetheless agree on the ‘backstop’ solution as part of the withdrawal agreement would not need to be brought into effect.

“In this context, we also noted that this proposal should allow both parties to resolve the remaining withdrawal agreement issues, including the ‘backstop’,” the statement says.

‘Broadly in line’

The Government on Friday night welcomed the move by Ms May, and senior sources said the British government statement was “broadly in line” with what Dublin was expecting.

In a statement issued late on Friday, the Government said that EU ministers would consider the UK proposals at a meeting in Brussels on July 20th.

However, the Government statement emphasised the importance of the backstop.

“While our preference is still for an overall EU-UK relationship which would resolve all issues, it remains essential that a backstop is agreed which provides certainty that in any circumstances, and no matter what the outcome of the negotiations on the EU-UK future relationship, a hard Border will be avoided,” it said.

The Government called for the negotiations to be intensified. “Time is short,” it said.