UK Cabinet proclaims Brexit unity _ but many hurdles ahead

Britain’s prime minister is claiming victory in her bid to unite her fractious Cabinet behind her latest Brexit policy, but many hurdles lie ahead. Theresa May is seeking to squelch public dissent from Conservative Party colleagues by warning ministers she will no longer tolerate public criticism of government policy now that the Cabinet has backed her following a 12-hour meeting that ended late Friday night. “She’s made it very clear that if people can’t stick to her position then they should go, and I think that’s good,” Conservative Party legislator Nicky Morgan said Saturday.

In widely broadcast comments, May said the Cabinet endorsed plans for a future free-trade deal with the European Union that would keep some close ties to the bloc even as it ends freedom of movement between Britain and the EU. The proposal would allow free movement of goods, but not of services. The agreement hammered out at the prime minister’s country residence resolves — for the moment — a long-running dispute within the Cabinet over whether to sever all ties with the EU or seek a more limited Brexit to help businesses accustomed to trading with continental Europe without customs payments or burdensome paperwork.

Since becoming prime minister nearly two years ago, May — whose party does not enjoy a majority in Parliament — has tolerated outspoken criticism from senior ministers, most notably Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who wants a total break with the EU. She has now signaled however, in a letter to Conservative Party legislators, that ministers who dissent in public will be dismissed now that “collective responsibility” has been restored. The plan, which will be elaborated on in great detail in a formal government document expected next week, brings May squarely down on the side those favoring a “soft” Brexit that would make it easier for many businesses to operate without new barriers being erected between Britain and continental Europe.

It’s unclear how EU negotiators will react to the plan, which seems to fly in the face of EU warnings that the UK cannot pick and choose which aspects of EU membership it would like to keep, and it is already angering hard-line Brexiteers who advocate a total break with the EU. Conservative legislator Jacob Rees-Mogg said he is waiting to see details but would vote against the plan if it retains too many ties to the EU. “This will require legislation and if, when we get the detailed legislation, it turns out that it is a punishment Brexit, that it is keeping us in the European Union in all but name, I will stick to the Conservative Party’s manifesto commitments and will not vote for it,” he told the BBC.

He said May’s plan may be worse than leaving the EU without any deal at all. “As with eggs: An egg that is very softly boiled isn’t boiled at all. A very soft Brexit means that we haven’t left, we are simply a rule-taker.

That is not something that this country voted for, it is not what the prime minister promised,” he said. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said Saturday the new plan may well “unravel” in the coming days. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, an outspoken opponent of Brexit, tweeted that the proposal contains “more realism” than earlier plans and may be a step forward.

But she made it clear she would lobby for more changes.

But some business leaders say the plan would bring badly needed clarity to the muddled Brexit talks with the EU.

Business Secretary Greg Clark says the plan is “very positive” and would allow business supply chains to operate without new barriers, helping protect British jobs.

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