May claims victory in uniting 'fractious' cabinet over Brexit
Britain's prime minister is claiming victory in her bid to unite her fractious Cabinet behind her latest Brexit policy, but many hurdles lie ahead.
Theresa 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 following a 12-hour meeting that ended late Friday night.
"She's made it very clear that if people can't stick to her position then they should go, and I think that's good," Conservative Party legislator Nicky Morgan said on Saturday.
In widely broadcast comments, May said the 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 tolerated outspoken criticism from senior ministers, most notably Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who wants a total break 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, which will be elaborated on in great detail in a formal government document expected next week, 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.