(AFP) – Britain will seek a “unique” deal on leaving the European Union, Prime Minister Theresa May’s Downing Street office said Wednesday, after ministers held their first Brexit talks since the summer break.
The government wants to control immigration from the EU while retaining strong trading ties, despite warnings from other nations that single market access is incompatible with limits on the free movement of people.
Britain voted to leave the EU in a June referendum, prompting the resignation of May’s predecessor David Cameron, who led the campaign to remain in the 28-nation bloc.
While May herself also favoured staying in, she has since insisted that “Brexit means Brexit”.
“Several Cabinet members made it clear that we are leaving the EU but not leaving Europe, with a decisive view that the model we are seeking is one unique to the United Kingdom and not an off the shelf solution,” a Downing Street statement said after the cabinet meeting at Chequers, the premier’s country house northwest of London.
“This must mean controls on the numbers of people who come to Britain from Europe but also a positive outcome for those who wish to trade goods and services,” the statement added.
Finance minister Philip Hammond reportedly favours retaining access to the single market on a sector-by-sector basis, while other senior ministers who campaigned for Brexit favour leaving.
– No Article 50 vote –
There is also confusion over the responsibilities of different government departments in any negotiations with Brussels, particularly between the foreign, international trade and Brexit ministries.
May has appointed a trio of anti-EU ministers to the most important Brexit departments, including Boris Johnson as foreign minister.
However, she will not trigger Article 50 — the formal process for leaving the EU — before the start of next year, despite pressure from other European nations to move faster.
The statement following the meeting made clear that it was the government’s decision “on when to trigger Article 50”, adding there was “no need” for a parliamentary vote on the issue.
May’s spokesman had already confirmed there would be no second referendum or snap general election, despite the hopes of some “Remain” campaigners that the process of leaving the EU could be stalled.
Preparations for Brexit are expected to ramp up across Whitehall as parliament reconvenes after the summer recess on Monday.
Civil servants are still being recruited to the “Brexit unit” which will do the groundwork for withdrawal.
Cameron banned key government departments from making contingency plans for Brexit — a move described as “gross negligence” by senior MPs.