British ministers agree to support proposal for UK-EU free trade area after Brexit

Theresa May says the proposal would establish "a common rule book for industrial goods and agricultural products"

British ministers agree to support proposal for UK-EU free trade area after Brexit

Picture by: Joel Rouse/Crown Copyright/PA Wire/PA Images

The British cabinet has agreed a 'collective position' on its Brexit proposals - with ministers approving moves to work towards a 'soft Brexit'.

In a statement after a meeting with ministers at her country retreat in Chequers, Prime Minister Theresa May said the proposals would create a "UK-EU free trade area which establishes a common rule book for industrial goods and agricultural products".

It appeared to signal that a political agreement had been reached, despite apparently deep divisions between ministers over the path forward in the fraught negotiations with the EU.

Mrs May suggests that the proposals - which will require approval from Europe - will 'avoid friction in terms of trade', but also meet her government's commitment to Northern Ireland.

Elsewhere, the British government is committing to 'no hard border' on the island of Ireland.

It also says it will leave the EU's Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy, as well as ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

In a statement after the marathon meeting with ministers today, Mrs May said: "We have also agreed a new business-friendly customs model with freedom to strike new trade deals around the world.

"Next week we will be publishing a white paper which will set out more details of how we will be taking back control of our money, laws and borders."

She added: "Now we must all move at pace to negotiate our proposal with the EU to deliver the prosperous and secure future all our people deserve."

Today's meeting had been billed as the most important of Mrs May’s career, as her ministers were bitterly divided over how to move the Brexit process forward.

EU leaders will now have to consider the proposals being put forward by the British government, ahead of the deadline for a deal in October.

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier welcomed the agreement - saying the proposals will be assessed "to see if they are workable & realistic".

He added he looks forward to the 'white paper' from the British government laying out their full Brexit proposals.