By Nicholas Winning 

LONDON -- British Prime Minister Theresa May met with government ministers for the first time since the summer break on Wednesday to discuss a strategy for leaving the European Union, amid growing pressure on the U.K. to explain how it plans to extricate itself.

The view among ministers at the meeting was that the government should seek a "unique" arrangement with the EU that would allow "controls on the numbers of people who come to Britain from Europe but also a positive outcome for those who wish to trade goods and services," a spokeswoman for the prime minister said.

There was also "a strong emphasis on pushing ahead" with Article 50, which is the formal process for leaving the EU, without the need for a parliamentary vote, said the spokeswoman following the meeting at the prime minister's official country residence, known as Chequers.

Ms. May, who took up the premiership in July after the U.K. public's unexpected vote to leave the EU on June 23, has yet to detail the government's exit negotiation strategy, despite calls from some European leaders and lawmakers in Britain for greater clarity.

She has said she wants to secure the closest possible economic links with the EU along with more control over migration from the bloc, though other European leaders have said the U.K. can't be part of Europe's internal trading market unless it agrees to the free movement of workers.

The prime minister has said she won't trigger Article 50 before the end of the year, but hasn't offered any further details on timing. She reiterated that position earlier on Wednesday in phone calls with the prime ministers of Finland and Norway saying that plan aimed "to give the U.K. and the EU time to prepare for negotiations and to help ensure that the process is as smooth as possible," her office said in a statement.

Officials with knowledge of the matter have signaled that early 2017 looks likely, although experts say national elections in France and Germany next year could complicate the talks.

Although the prime minister and many of her ministers were in favor of staying in the EU, Ms. May opened the cabinet meeting stressing that the vote to leave was final, despite calls from some quarters for a second vote once the full details of an EU exit are known.

"We must continue to be very clear that 'Brexit means Brexit,' that we're going to make a success of it. That means there's no second referendum; no attempts to sort of stay in the EU by the back door; that we're actually going to deliver on this," she said.

Among those attending Wednesday's cabinet meeting were David Davis, head of the newly formed ministry responsible for Brexit, as well as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Liam Fox, the minister responsible for trade, both of whom also are focused on Brexit-related issues. All three campaigned for the U.K. to leave the EU.

Ms. May had asked ministers before the summer break to identify opportunities and challenges presented by Britain's exit from the EU for their respective areas.

During the cabinet meeting the ministers reiterated their commitment to fiscal discipline and determination to boost productivity, and agreed to make the most of opportunities presented by Britain's departure from the EU, the prime minister's office said without providing further details.

The ministers also discussed the government's efforts to tackle social inequalities and its legislative program, and the political environment ahead of her Conservative Party's annual autumn conference in early October. Ms. May has said she wouldn't call national elections before they are next scheduled in 2020, despite having a commanding lead in opinion polls over the opposition Labour Party since taking office. Parliament returns from summer recess on Monday.

The ministerial gathering took place ahead of the prime minister's first major international meeting, a summit of the Group of 20 wealthiest nations in China this weekend.

The G-20 trip comes after the government unexpectedly delayed a final decision on the building of a new nuclear plant in the U.K. partly funded by the Chinese, a move that has strained relations with Beijing. The U.K. said it needed until the fall to review the GBP18 billion ($23.6 billion) project, funded by the Chinese and French, which Ms. May's predecessor, David Cameron, had approved.

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(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 31, 2016 15:05 ET (19:05 GMT)

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