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May: Brexit must allow best access to EU markets and trade with other countries

The Prime Minister insisted she was confident of achieving a result which will lead to a dynamic post-Brexit economy.

The final Brexit deal must allow Britain to set its own rules and strike “ambitious” trade deals with countries around the world while having the “best possible” access to EU markets, Theresa May has told her Cabinet.

As the full Cabinet came together to discuss for the first time the UK’s preferred “end state” for its future relationship with the EU, the Prime Minister insisted she was confident of achieving a result which will lead to a dynamic post-Brexit economy delivering growth, jobs and prosperity.

Her official spokesman said Mrs May’s message was backed by the whole Cabinet at the meeting in 10 Downing Street, though no formal position is expected to be agreed for some time, with further discussions scheduled for the new year.

In the 105-minute meeting, the Cabinet did not discuss the position set out so far by the European Commission’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, whose vision of a free trade agreement similar to that struck with Canada in 2016 differs sharply from Mrs May’s demand for a bespoke UK deal delivering a “deep and special partnership”.

In comments to a number of European newspapers, including the Guardian, Mr Barnier said there would be no special arrangement to allow City firms to trade freely in the EU if Britain leaves the single market.

“There is no place (for financial services),” he said. “There is not a single trade agreement that is open to financial services. It doesn’t exist.”

Describing the position as a result of “the red lines that the British have chosen themselves”, he stated: “In leaving the single market, they lose the financial services passport.”

Mrs May’s spokesman said the PM told Cabinet that she was seeking “a significantly more ambitious deal than the EU’s agreement with Canada”.

She ruled out the option of a Norway-style membership of the European Economic Area as “democratically unsustainable” because it would mean the UK having automatically to observe rules and regulations which it had no influence over.

The PM’s spokesman said she told ministers that the starting point for discussing the UK’s preferred end state was her own speeches at Lancaster House and in Florence earlier this year, in which she ruled out membership of the single market and customs union, but voiced her hope for a new “deep and special partnership” spanning the economic and security relationship with the EU.

She told Cabinet it was clear that the Government was seeking “a deal which secures the best possible trading terms with the EU, enables the UK to set rules which are right for our situation and facilitates ambitious third-country trade deals”, said the spokesman.

Britain would need to be “creative” in designing proposals for a future economic partnership, Mrs May said.

And she said the positions adopted by the Government would be in the national interest, adding that she was “confident of building a dynamic post-Brexit economy which will deliver growth, jobs, prosperity and a better future”.

Boris Johnson is among the committed Brexiteers (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The PM’s spokesman said Mrs May stressed that the kind of deal she was looking for would be in the interests both of the UK and the remaining EU.

There was agreement on her approach from the ministers attending Cabinet, about 25 of whom spoke during the “very detailed” discussion, he said.

“The Cabinet was unified behind the Lancaster House and Florence speeches and behind the deal which she agreed on Friday,” said the spokesman.

His comments followed reports of a growing difference over the level of regulatory alignment with the EU which Britain should maintain after Brexit, with Philip Hammond and Amber Rudd understood to favour closer ties with the bloc than convinced Brexiters like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, who want freedom to ditch red tape in order to facilitate trade deals elsewhere in the world.

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