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British government approves plan on UK-EU free-trade area

LONDON - British Prime Minister Theresa May won agreement Friday from her warring cabinet to pursue "a UK-EU free trade area" after Brexit, as she bids to unblock negotiations with the bloc amid warnings time is running out to get a deal.

The proposal would create "a common rule book for industrial goods and agricultural products", May said in a statement following a day of talks at Chequers, the 16th-century manor house near London that serves as her official country retreat.

She added ministers also settled on "a new business-friendly customs model", which would maintain high standards but allow Britain "to strike new trade deals around the world" once it has left the European Union next March.

The government believes that plan would allow Britain to maintain frictionless trade with the EU in goods, avoid customs checks on the sensitive Irish border, and end both free movement of people and jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Britain.

The positions were agreed at the much-anticipated cabinet meeting as rumours swirled that ministers such as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson could oppose elements of the stance and resign.

"Today in detailed discussions the cabinet has agreed our collective position for the future of our negotiations with the EU," the prime minister said.

"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."

Under the cabinet's plan, Britain would be half-in, half-out of the European single market.

London has pledged to avoid customs checks on the border between Northern Ireland, which will be leaving the EU along with the rest of Britain, and Ireland, which will remain a bloc member.

The issue has proved a key sticking point in Brexit negotiations.

The newly-agreed plan would smooth trade in agricultural, food and fisheries products, and protect integrated supply chains and just-in-time processes.

The British cabinet also agreed to strive for "a joint institutional framework" to interpret and apply any future relationship'', the British government said.

"This would be done in the UK by UK courts, and in the EU by EU courts –- with due regard paid to EU case law in areas where the UK continued to apply a common rulebook," it said.

Meanwhile, the cabinet proposal would retain regulatory flexibility for its dominant services sector, "where the potential trading opportunities outside the EU are the largest", in return for restricted access to EU markets.

It accepts the end to current "passporting" rights allowing British financial firms to operate freely in the EU, but suggests arrangements "that preserve the mutual benefits of integrated markets and protect financial stability".

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