Published: Tue, June 20, 2017
Economy | By Annette Adams

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

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

The Brussels talks began nearly a year after Britain unexpectedly voted in a referendum to leave the European Union and less than two weeks after Prime Minister Theresa May lost her overall majority in snap elections that raised questions about the stability of the government the European Union faces.

As for the first negotiations round, "talks about talks" have already bared fruit with Britain and the European Union agreeing on the priorities and timetable for Brexit negotiations after the first session of talks.

Barnier said his priority was to clear up the uncertainties that the Brexit vote had created.

But instead she lost her parliamentary majority, putting that hard-line approach and her political future in doubt after the disastrous June 8 election.

But EU leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, are also determined not to make concessions to Britain that might encourage others to quit. Britain insists that it must regain the right to control immigration and end free movement from other European Union countries into Britain.

Davis, a prominent tough-talking figure in the "Leave" campaign, sounded a positive note too, saying "there is more that unites us than divides us".

Anxious by immigration and loss of sovereignty, Britons voted a year ago to end their country's four-decade membership in the 28-country bloc - the first nation ever to do so.

Threats by Britain to walk away without a deal have also anxious European capitals.

Both English and French will be used as working languages in negotiations and working documents, and the two sides have agreed a set of principles on the openness of their talks.

In a decision branded "common sense" by European Union chief negotiator Michel Barnier, the United Kingdom will now work to Brussels' timetable. Today's talks however are likely to focus on the practical details of timings for the coming months, with the big, divisive issues left aside for now, officials said.

A terms-of-reference document agreed by Mr Barnier and Mr Davis said further talks would be held in the weeks starting on July 17, Aug 28, Sept 18 and Oct 9.

While Barnier insists on the "sequencing" of talks, so that trade negotiations can not start until probably January, finding a way to avoid a "hard" customs border for troubled Northern Ireland may well involve some earlier discussion of the matter.

"In the first step, the negotiation rounds will be broken down into three groups: citizen rights, the single financial settlement, and other separation issues", Barnier said.

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

"I would like us to get a good agreement that is in both sides' interests".

"There will be no austerity on my side, I will display a constructive attitude firmly based on interests and support of the (European Union) 27, and I will all the time seek to the continued support of the European Parliament", he said.

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