'Constructive' Brexit talks get off to a shaky start for David Davis

Frederick Owens
June 20, 2017

Nearly a year to the day since Britons voted in a referendum to quit the European Union, the Brexit strategy debate within the United Kingdom government has intensified since Prime Minister Theresa May lost her majority in a snap parliamentary election on June 8.

The Irish Border is one of the EU's top three priorities in the first phase of talks, along with citizens' rights and the UK's financial settlement.

Varadkar told the news conference that both the British and Irish governments needed to be impartial actors in relation to Northern Ireland's stalled power-sharing arrangements between parties that want the province to remain in the United Kingdom and parties that want it to become part of the Republic.

The European Commission has made it clear that it wants the first talks to focus on the status of expats and this, along with other issues such as the so called "divorce bill" and the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland should be concluded before talks begin in a trade deal.

The MEP for the East Of England said: "We finally got there".

And at a final news conference they traded quotes from their respective nations' history: Barnier cited European Union founding father Jean Monnet to say: "I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic".

Davis said he was looking for a "positive and constructive tone" to deal with the myriad issues dividing both sides.

The UK government and European Union officials will now discuss the residency rights of European Union nationals in the UK and Britons on the continent, followed by a so called Brexit bill, which could see the UK pay €100bn to Brussels, and other other issues will be discussed further down the line.

Before the General Election, ministers had insisted that talks on a future trading relationship must take place in parallel with the negotiations on the divorce from Brussels, with Mr Davis warning in May that it would be the "row of the summer". They will use the time in between to work on proposals and exchange them.

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"My clear view - and I believe the view of the majority of people in Britain - is that we should prioritize protecting jobs, protecting economic growth and protecting prosperity as we enter into negotiations", he said.

He also confirmed that Britain would opt for a "hard Brexit" that involves quitting the EU's single market and customs union, rejecting suggestions that after a poor election performance by May the line might be softened.

The UK has given in to the EU's demand to keep talks on a future free trade deal for later, once "significant progress" has been made on citizens, money and Ireland. European Union officials have put the figure at around 50 billion euros ($63 billion) while other estimates by think tanks and in the media go as high as twice that amount.

Mr Barnier insisted the Brexit process was not about seeking concessions. It took us nine months to write a letter to say we are leaving.

"The number of options where all of this can lead has become much bigger than it was before", said Guntram Wolff, director of the Brussels-based think tank Bruegel. 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.

"We each have to assume our responsibility and the consequences of our decisions", he said at the conclusion of Monday's press conference.

But the business community and many lawmakers want to retain closer ties with Europe, and they are heaping pressure on the prime minister to change her approach.

Mr Davis gave Brussels' chief negotiator a rare book on mountaineering - a French-language version of Regards vers l'Annapurna, signed by Marcel Ichac, one of the two authors.

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