And so it begins: Brexit talks to focus 1st on orderly exit

Xavier Trudeau
Juin 20, 2017

Brexit Minister David Davis will begin talks with European Union officials in Brussels on Monday to work out a deal on Britain's exit from the European Union and its future relationship with the bloc.

In carefully choreographed talks that even saw the two men exchange mountaineering gifts, they agreed to discuss divorce issues before negotiations on a future trade deal can start.

Barnier said they wanted to agree on the "main principles of the key challenges of the UK's withdrawal as soon as possible", including Britain's exit bill, the rights of European Union citizens in Britain and the future of Northern Ireland. An early election this month, in which Prime Minister Theresa May lost her majority, only added to the problems.

Frenchman Barnier struck a firm tone as he said the timetable for Britain's divorce after four troubled decades of membership made sense.

"For Britain to get a good trade deal it might have to acquiesce or talks could turn sour", he said.

Davis, a prominent "Leave" campaigner in the referendum, said he was approaching the talks in a "constructive way", knowing they will be "difficult at points".

"We will build the broadest possible consensus for our Brexit plans and that means giving Parliament the maximum amount of time to scrutinise these bills by holding a two-year session of Parliament", she said.

Anxious by immigration and loss of sovereignty, Britain voted a year ago to end its four-decades-old membership of the 28-country bloc - the first state ever to do so.

The vote came as a profound shock to Brussels against a backdrop of rising anti-EU sentiment, with many - including now US President Donald Trump - predicting the bloc's eventual break-up.

The formal negotiations kick off after British Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party performed poorly in a recent snap election she called in order to provide her with more leverage during the Brexit negotiations.

The first day of official talks will begin at 1000 BST and continue until early evening, with a joint press conference at 1530 BST.

The EU says it wants to avoid the return of a "hard border" with Ireland that would require passport controls and customs checks, but how that will be possible without Britain staying part of the EU single market or customs union is not clear. "I think it was a mistake that we didn't spend more time and resources taking apart Jeremy Corbyn's economic proposals and his spending plans, which are frankly incredible and would do enormous damage to this country, to our jobs, to our economy". He said he views the talks with "informed optimism".

For that reason, Brussels wants as a priority to guarantee rights for 3 million European Union citizens in Britain and be paid tens of billions of euros it says London will owe on its departure.

But Monday's talks will seek mainly to tie down the timing, with the European Union suggesting monthly cycles over the summer.

"The best way we can spend this week is to rebuild trust", rather than tackle the big hard issues right at the start, another European source said.

Macron, a committed pro-EU leader and ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, easily won French legislative elections yesterday, cementing his power base.

Davis added that the United Kingdom wanted a deal good for both sides. "That will be in our mutual interest, but we 27 will formulate our interests very clearly and hopefully together".

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