Brexit talks get underway, fears of tight deadline for process

Vincent Carr
June 20, 2017

At a press conference in Brussels, Mr Davis said: "We discussed two aspects of it".

Brexit negotiators will discuss Monday Britain's financial obligations to the European Union as the long, complicated and potentially perilous process of the United Kingdom leaving the bloc finally gets underway.

Britain's Brexit minister David Davis said the country wanted to strike "a deal like no other in history" as formal talks on quitting the European Union were set to begin in Brussels on Monday.

At the first day of talks in the Belgian capital, roughly a year after the UK's Brexit referendum, Mr Barnier made clear they would proceed according to the timetable set by the European Union, under which progress on the terms of withdrawal must be made before any discussions on a future trading relationship. "That has always been our first aim and that is what we will do".

Northern Ireland's border with the Republic and the bill for Britain's previous European Union commitments will also be high on the agenda, Mr Barnier said.

"We have the Lancaster House speech, the two white papers and the article 50 letter, all backed up by a manifesto - and so it's the same as it was before", he said, reiterating that Britain will leave the single market and seek to set up a free trade arrangement with the EU. They exchanged gifts - a walking stick from Barnier's native Alps for Davis, a French mountaineer's memoir in a valuable first edition from the Briton to the Frenchman.

A special dialogue involving senior negotiators from each side has been set up to consider the issue, with Mr Davis' official Olly Robbins holding talks with Mr Barnier's deputy Sabine Weyand on the issue.

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Regarding the future relationship with the EU, Davis said Britain has not changed its position, reiterating that Britain will leave the single market and the customs union, which is "the only way" to allow Britain to develop free trade agreements with non-EU countries.

The aim is to make sufficient progress to get leaders of the other 27 European Union countries to agree to move on to talks on a future relationship with Britain, including a trade deal, he said.

But the situation is very different from 12 months ago when the Brexiteers were riding high, with Prime Minister Theresa May's entire approach called into question after a disastrous election performance on June 8.

Time is pressing. After Britain's June 23, 2016 referendum to leave the bloc, the other 27 nations wanted to start the exit talks as soon as possible so they could work on their own futures, but Britain long seemed dazed by its own momentous move. Instead of having a slim majority in Parliament, May's Conservative Party lost 13 seats, and with it their majority power.

Johnson also urged Europeans to look further down the road.

Britain's financial obligations are expected to amount to at least $64 billion, and could go over $100 million, although London has suggested it will not pay that much. A fair deal for both sides was possible, he said. The leaders are also likely to shape more clarity on the UK-EU relationship post the exit and the nature of trade deals between them. Davis insisted that talks about trade would occur "in parallel", but Barnier said they would start only in a second phase.

As Europe grows more confident in its future after the election victory in France of pro-EU President Emmanuel Macron and the growing assurance from German Chancellor Angela Merkel that she will be re-elected in September, analysts say there may be fewer reasons for Europe to compromise.

Other reports by BadHub

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