Theresa May urges cabinet to move closer to Brexit deal

Notion UK unable to negotiate trade accord with US rejected as ‘categorically untrue’

British prime minister Theresa May: cabinet has a great opportunity and duty to set an ambitious post-Brexit course for the country. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty

British prime minister Theresa May has urged her cabinet to take "another step forward" towards a Brexit deal when they meet in Chequers on Friday, as hardline backbenchers warned against remaining too closely aligned with the European Union.

Jacob Rees-Mogg said a leaked proposal for regulatory alignment to be discussed at Chequers would turn Britain into a vassal state, as Downing Street denied that the plan would make a trade deal with the United States impossible.

The Spectator reported on Thursday that a document circulated to ministers proposes that "the UK should maintain a common rulebook for all goods including agri-food" and would make "an upfront choice to commit by treaty to ongoing harmonisation with EU rules on goods".

The document says the deal “would not allow the UK to accommodate a likely ask from the US in a future trade deal” as the UK would be unable to recognise the US’s “array of standards”.

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The prime minister's official spokeswoman rejected as "categorically untrue" the suggestion Britain would be unable to negotiate a trade deal with the US, whose president, Donald Trump, visits the country next week.

Trading relationship

“The PM has always been clear that we will seek a comprehensive and ambitious trade deal with the US that reflects the strength of our trading and investment relationship, and as you know the president has also made it clear that he is keen to sit down and talk with the UK about that. And the PM and the president will obviously have a chance to discuss trade next week,” the spokeswoman said. “What I can be very clear on is that it is categorically untrue to suggest that we will not be able to strike a trade deal with the US.”

Brexit secretary David Davis declined on Thursday to deny reports that he had written to Ms May warning that her new customs proposal would be unacceptable to Brussels. The "facilitated customs arrangement" would see Britain leave the EU's common external tariff but all goods entering the UK would be tracked and charged the EU tariff if they were destined for Europe.

‘Good progress’

Speaking ahead of the Chequers meeting, the prime minister said the cabinet had a great opportunity and a duty to set an ambitious course for the country after Brexit.

"We have already made good progress – on the text of the withdrawal agreement, by passing the EU Withdrawal Act and in agreeing an implementation period which gives people and business certainty. Now is the time for another step forward. We want a deal that allows us to deliver the benefits of Brexit – taking control of our borders, laws and money and by signing ambitious new trade deals with countries like the US, Australia and New Zealand, " she said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times