Cabinet agreed on free movement of people for up to four years after Brexit

Ministers have accepted that the UK will allow the free movement of people for up to four years after leaving the EU, it has been reported.

A senior source told the Guardian Theresa May’s cabinet are in agreement over the need for a transition deal that avoids an economic cliff edge.

The news follows weeks of civil war within the government between ministers angling for a hard Brexit and those who favour a softer option.

The source said ministers who believe in a soft Brexit are now confident there is government consensus on the need for an “off the shelf” transition deal that will give certainty for UK businesses.

“If you ask business when they want to see it agreed, they’d say tomorrow,” the source told the newspaper, adding that a transition period that includes the free movement of people could last between two and four years.

The most likely choices would be membership of the European Economic Area or membership of the European Free Trade Association – both of which require the free movement of people.

The former provides full access to the single market and exemption from certain EU rules, while the latter allows some but not complete access to the single market and means only EU trade regulations need to be adhered to.

The day after the report emerged, leading Brexiteer and environment secretary Micheal Gove signalled the government and cabinet is united over the need for a transition deal.

While giving a speech at the WWF he told environmental groups: “I know not just from agriculture but from other industries how important it is that we ensure we continue to have access to the high-quality labour on which our economy depends.

“As we leave the European Union, we will have an implementation period which will ensure we continue to have not just access to labour but the economic stability and certainty that business requests. That is something around which the government and the cabinet is united.”