Theresa May persuaded her Cabinet to unite over Brexit plans during a meeting on Thursday and while the exact details of the agreement have not officially been released, reports suggest the Prime Minister secured approval for a bespoke deal.
The Prime Minister is expected to give a landmark speech next week where she will outline the UK’s Brexit position, however European Union diplomats have already revealed it is likely to be rejected by Brussels.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who was not at the Brexit sub committee meeting on Thursday, said the group agreed Britain must not be part of a customs union as it should have the right to strike free trade deals with other countries, and claimed “frictionless” trade was still possible without one.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Customs union is one way of getting frictionless trade but it’s not the only way, and what we’re saying is we want to achieve frictionless trade by agreement between two sovereign bodies – the United Kingdom and European Union.”
But former EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson cautioned that while the Cabinet had reached an agreement in the end “it is negotiating with the EU”.
Mr Mandelson told the Financial Times: “The Cabinet is not negotiating with itself. It is negotiating with the EU and this plan will soon hit reality.”
A senior Brussels official said that despite Mrs May wanting a “bespoke” deal it simply was not compatible with EU structures
The insider said: “There is a binary choice: a free-trade agreement or the single market.”
The official’s remarks were reinforced by Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar who echoed many at an EU27 summit yesterday as he claimed Mrs May would would have to choose.
Mr Varadkar said: “It’s not a la carte. It is not possible for the UK to be aligned to EU when it suits and not when it doesn’t.
“The UK needs to square that circle. It doesn’t appear that the circle has yet been squared.”
European Council President Mr Tusk claimed the current UK position on its post-Brexit relationship with the bloc was “based on an illusion”, hitting out at the UK trying to get a bespoke deal.
He said: “If the media reports are correct I’m afraid that the UK position is based on pure illusion.
“It looks like the cake philosophy is still alive.”
“From the very start there has been a key principle there can be no cherry picking and no single market a la carte.”
He said the bloc would be “extremely realistic in our assessment of possible new proposals”.
And Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who saw Mrs May this week, also spoke to reporters separately after the Brussels meeting of the EU27 without the UK.
Mr Rutte said: ”I made it clear to Theresa May that I believe it is crucial for the UK to set out its position on the transition, on issues like the Irish border, and particularly on the future relationship.”