Theresa May’s Cabinet today held its first discussion on what Britain will look like after Brexit – 18 months after the vote to leave the EU.
Ministers took it turns to set out their vision for the UK outside the European Union during what Downing Street described as a “very detailed” discussion.
Yet despite the meeting lasting for 1hour 45minutes, the topic of immigration did not come up once – despite it being a driving force behind the 2016 Brexit vote.
Ministers also did not raise comments from the EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier that the UK’s financial sector would not get a special Brexit deal that would allow it to continue trading on current terms with the economic bloc.
The Prime Minister kicked off the debate, and according to her Official Spokesman made it clear “the UK would be seeking a bespoke deal” with the EU – not aping other trade agreements already in place.
“The Prime Minister said she’d been clear in her Florence speech that a European Economic Area model would not be right for Britain and would be democratically unsustainable because it would mean automatically adopting all EU rules without influence or a vote. She also said the UK would be seeking a significantly more ambitious deal than the EU’s agreement with Canada,” said her Official Spokesman.
The Cabinet discussion comes a day after a meeting of a sub-group of ministers to thrash out what kind of Brexit deal the UK should pursue.
According to reports, Chancellor Philip Hammond, Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Business Secretary Greg Clark – all Remainers – signaled they would go along with a so-called Canada-plus trade deal.
That deal mainly focuses on trade in goods, not services, but the UK is keen to extend its scope to take in that lucrative sector.
In an interview with The Guardian, Barnier kiboshed any attempts to tack financial services on to the Canada deal for the UK.
He said: “There is no place [for financial services]. There is not a single trade agreement that is open to financial services. It doesn’t exist.”
The Frenchman added the outcome was a consequence of “the red lines that the British have chosen themselves. In leaving the Single Market, they lose the financial services passport.”
Downing Street said that while the future of the financial sector was discussed by Cabinet, Barnier’s comments were not.
While immigration was not discussed, the Government commissioned a Migration Advisory Committee in July to carry out a detailed analysis of the role of EU nationals in the UK economy and society.
A total of 25 ministers spoke during the meeting – not including Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire, who was absent, and Leader of the Lords Baroness Evans, who had to leave early to attend a debate in the Upper Chamber.