Brexit Talks Begin With Tight Schedule Set and Divorce-Bill Disagreement

Andrew Cummings
June 20, 2017

The EU's chief negotiator, France's Michel Barnier, welcomed his counterpart David Davis with a handshake and smiles for the press in the European Commission's landmark headquarters in central Brussels flanked by the EU and British flags.

Brexit talks under way in the Commission's Berlaymont building on Monday. And almost three months have ticked away since Prime Minister Theresa May started the two-year countdown to departure. "The position we have agreed today is completely consistent with our long-standing position we have set out on article 50".

However, any push for a "hard Brexit" - with little in the way of systems and agreements in place - may have been compromised by the recent UK General Election result.

He said those were the rights of expatriate citizens and problems of a new EU-UK border, notably cutting across Ireland.

Barnier and Davis will have a week of negotiations each month, while the other three weeks will be used for preparations and working out the details.

But Barnier made clear the trade talks would not begin until there was "sufficient progress on the divorce", describing the sequence as "clearly defined and logical". The last round, according to the current schedule, will start on 9 October, 10 days before the European Union summit where leaders are expected to assess the progress made. "At rights of citizens there is much common ground", said Davis. They will be tasked with exploring and testing options that will then be submitted to the top negotiators for their political blessings.

"We will discuss the issues together, tackle difficulties, lift obstacles", Barnier said, adding that for the European Union, it will be "citizens first".

That financial issue is already a bone of contention, as is Brussels' refusal to discuss a new free trade deal until after it is resolved.

Officials on both sides play down expectations for what can be achieved in one day. EU nations and the European Parliament will have to approve any future deal and that can take months.

Both sides were determined to give the talks a positive spin, with Mr Davis and Mr Barnier exchanging mountaineering gifts - a walking stick and a book on hiking - ahead of the all-day meeting.

"But it's unsettling that Brexit Minister David Davis only wants to guarantee these rights for those who immigrated before March 29", he added.

"A fair deal is possible, and far better than no deal ..."

The Mechanical Engineering Industry Association, known by its German initials VDMA, says that that goal of the two-year negotiating process is "damage limitation" because Brexit won't benefit either side.

"The UK will remain a committed partner and ally of our friends across the continent", Davis said.

The difficulty, and potential acrimony, of the Brexit process could however be felt.

A trade agreement can only be completed once the United Kingdom leaves the bloc. His priority, he said, was to clear up the uncertainties which last June's Brexit vote had created.

"The UK is leaving the European Union, not the contrary". "Everyone must accept their responsibilities, the consequences of their decisions".

May's election debacle has revived feuding over Europe among Conservatives that her predecessor David Cameron hoped to end by calling the referendum and leaves European Union leaders unclear on her plan for a "global Britain" which majority regard as pure folly.

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".

Other reports by iNewsToday