The proposal aims to keep the U.K. and the bloc in a free-trade zone for goods, but not for services.
UNITED STATES.- British Prime Minister Theresa May corralled her Cabinet inside an English country house for a long, hot day Friday, and announced that the divided government had finally agreed on a plan for a future free-trade deal with the European Union.
The proposal aims to keep the U.K. and the bloc in a free-trade zone for goods, but not for services, which make up the bulk of the British economy.
After almost 12 hours of talks at Chequers, the prime minister’s country retreat, May said that “the Cabinet has agreed our collective position for the future of our negotiations with the EU” — a pronouncement akin to the British government equivalent of white smoke from the Vatican announcing the election of a new pope.
But getting the Conservative government to agree with itself may be the easy part. As ministers met behind closed doors — and without their phones, to prevent snooping and leaks — the EU’s chief negotiator warned the bloc would not accept anything that treated the union’s single mar- ket, which allows the free flow of goods and services, as a “big supermarket.”
At first glance the British proposals sit uneasily with repeated EU warnings that it cannot “cherry pick” the benefits of EU membership, such as access to the tariff-free customs union and single market, without accepting the responsibilities, which include allowing the free movement of EU citizens to the U.K.
The U.K. is firm that it will end free movement, as well as the jurisdiction of the EU’s top court in British affairs.
Friday’s meeting at the 16th- century manor house 40 miles (65 kilometers) northwest of London came with just nine months to go until the U.K. leaves the bloc, and with the EU warning that time is running out to seal a divorce deal.
Currently Britain is part of the EU’s single market — which allows for the frictionless flow of goods and services among the 28 member states — and its tariff-free customs union for goods. That will end after Brexit, but what will replace it remains unclear.
Ever since Britain voted to leave the EU two years ago, its government has been divided between Brexit-backing ministers who want a sharp break from the EU so the U.K. can strike new trade deals around the world, and a more pro-EU group that wants to avoid tariffs and other friction between the U.K. and its biggest trading partner.