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Brexit Transition period won't rule out new trade deals, May pleads

THERESA MAY told MPs yesterday that Britain will seek to strike trade deals with non-EU countries despite potentially being bound by the bloc's rules during a two-year transition period after Brexit takes effect.

The Prime Minister said  she wanted “access to one another’s markets” to continue “as now” during an implementation period before Britain eventually drops out of the single market and customs union.

EU guidelines say that this country will have to comply with the bloc's trade policy during a transition period, and that this would prevent the government from striking deals with other non-EU nations.

But Ms May said she wanted to sign agreements before the “strictly time-limited” period ends that would come into force afterwards.

A Cabinet meeting earlier yesterday concluded without senior ministers agreeing a position on what trade relationship with the EU Britain should pursue during exit negotiations.

There was discussion of the potential for “gradual divergence” – a step-by-step move away from EU laws after Brexit and the end of the implementation period in 2021. 

The meeting coincided with a senior adviser to EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier warning that Britain could not “cherry-pick” the advantages of different trading models with the EU.

Ms May’s spokesman said she was determined to seek a bespoke deal, rather than one modelled on pre-existing examples such as Norway’s membership of the European Economic Area or a Canada’s free trade deal on goods.

The spokesman also claimed that the Prime Minister was committed to “maintaining and where possible enhancing” workers’ rights following Brexit, after she has been urged by the TUC not to scrap the EU Working Time Directive, which limits the working week to 48 hours and guarantees paid holiday for part-time and casual workers.

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