Prime Minister Theresa May touted the benefits of her latest Brexit proposal to create a partial free trade zone between the U.K. and the European Union, saying it is possible EU citizens would receive preferential treatment for employment after Britain leaves the bloc.
May told the BBC that the plan, which her fractious Cabinet endorsed after a marathon meeting, would allow Britain to make good on its Brexit commitments while still protecting British economic interests.
She said the commitment to end the free movement of people would be met, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the U.K. would be curtailed, and the U.K. no longer would send "vast sums of money" to the EU every year.
These and other provisions would meet the public expectations for what Brexit would entail, she said.
"But we'll do it in a way that protects...and enhances our economy for the future," May said.
She said her government would "decide" whether EU citizens would receive special consideration to live and work in Britain after the country leaves the EU, a prospect that may anger people in the U.K. who favor a complete break and a substantial reduction in immigration.
The government says the new plan agreed to by the Cabinet late Friday will be detailed in a formal government document next week and negotiated with EU leaders. May hopes it will jumpstart the acrimonious discussions about the terms of Brexit.
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.
May said after the Cabinet meeting that her ministers 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 endured outspoken criticism from senior ministers, most notably Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who wants a total rupture 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 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.
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