LONDON – British Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to “keep calm” and stick to her Brexit plan after discussions with her cabinet on Monday, rejecting growing pressure to change the plan.
The cabinet’s agenda was scheduled to focus on post-Brexit immigration but was overshadowed by May’s angry reaction to EU leaders rejecting her so-called Chequers proposals at an informal summit in Salzburg last week.
Downing Street said the meeting lasted about four hours.
“[May] made clear we are going to keep our calm, hold our nerve, and press the EU on some of the criticisms that they have made,” Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC after the meeting.
“But, also, to be clear that there are no credible alternatives that the EU has come up with,” Raab said. “So we are going to hold our nerve, but continue to negotiate in good faith.”
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would like to see Britain exit the European Union on friendly terms.
“It means a lot to me that we do this in friendship,” Merkel told an audience at a political discussion in the German city of Hanover.
Many British governments have said negative things about the EU in the past, she added, so it was not surprising that this had affected the public’s view of Brussels.
On Friday, May blamed the EU for an “impasse” in the Brexit negotiations and demanded that it make a new offer to resolve a key dispute over how to maintain an open Irish border.
European Council President Donald Tusk hit back by calling May “tough” and “uncompromising,” suggesting the EU would not change its position.
Ahead of Monday’s cabinet meeting, former Brexit secretary David Davis and Jacob-Rees Mogg, a leading eurosceptic in May’s Conservatives, backed a report arguing that the government should refocus its Brexit efforts on expanding free-trade links to non-EU nations.
According to the report, May’s proposals would leave Britain with “substantively harmonized regulations with the EU, which, with the customs arrangement it outlined, would make an independent trade policy all but impossible.”
The Chequers plan included “a swathe of other infringements to [economic] independence,” it said.
The Brexiteers want May to drop her proposals for a common rule book for goods and instead steer Britain towards a Canada-style free-trade deal.
Canada’s deal with the EU, known as CETA, removes nearly all tariffs on industrial, agricultural and fishery trade, but does not oblige Canada to contribute to the EU budget.
May was also expected to meet Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s point man on Brexit, on Monday.
Verhofstadt said he was travelling to London for talks with the prime minister and Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who is responsible for immigration policy.
“Time is running out to conclude a withdrawal treaty that protects the rights of EU and UK citizens affected by Brexit,” Verhofstadt tweeted.
Britain is scheduled to leave the bloc in March 2019. May has said no deal would be preferable to a bad deal. -DPA