UK, EU Officials Begin Brexit Talks

David Davis and Michel Barnier chief Brexit negotiators for the UK and EU respectively
David Davis and Michel Barnier chief Brexit negotiators for the UK and EU respectively
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20 June, 2017

The EU and Britain on Monday launched the long-awaited Brexit talks at European Commission's headquarters in Brussels, almost one year after Britain voted to leave the bloc by a narrow margin on June 23, 2016.

Both EU negotiator Michel Barnier and his British counterpart David Davis said after the first negotiating session they were confident of quick progress but said major challenges lay ahead to meet the deadline of March 2019 for Britain to officially leave the bloc.

A beaming Brexit Secretary David Davis, a veteran campaigner against European Union membership, told a sombre Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, on Monday (Tuesday NZ Time) that his team aimed to maintain a "positive and constructive tone" during "challenging" talks ahead in the hope of reaching a deal that was in the interests of both sides.

The EU says Britain can't leave without settling its bill, paying up for all its commitments that are still ongoing, including projects that might reach into the next decade, as well as the U.K.'s share of EU staff pensions.

"We must first tackle the uncertainties caused by Brexit", centering on citizens living on each other's territory, border arrangements between Ireland and the United Kingdom and the amount that Britain stands to pay to get out of its previous European Union commitments, Barnier said. "We must first tackle the uncertainties caused by Brexit, first for citizens but also for the beneficiaries of European Union policies and for the impact on borders, in particular Ireland".

A letter signed by the CBI, British Chambers of Commerce, manufacturing group the EEF, the Federation of Small Businesses and Institute of Directors also calls for an early deal to secure the rights of European Union citizens living and working in Britain to stay after Brexit.

As the political landscape has proven to be so unpredictable over the previous year or more, no-one is confidently predicting the outcomes of the Brexit talks, however, especially due to their complexity.

Officials on both sides play down expectations for what can be achieved in one day.

Barnier wants agreement on the withdrawal, and on a transitional path to a future relationship, by October 2018, so that the European and British parliaments can ratify the deal by Brexit day in March 2019. "In the first step we will deal with the most pressing issues, in the second step will scope our future partnership", added Barnier. May says Britain will leave the EU's single market in goods and services and its tariff-free customs union, but nonetheless, somehow, wants "frictionless" free trade.

International Trade Minister Liam Fox will travel to Washington on Monday to explore new trade ties - although no formal negotiations are possible until Britain has actually left the bloc. Chancellor Philip Hammond has dismissed the idea that the United Kingdom could stay in the Customs Union and Single Market following the UK's departure from the EU.

He said Prime Minister Theresa May will later this week update European leaders on Britain's approach on protecting citizen rights at the EU summit slated for Thursday and Friday.

The two men and their senior aides dined on Belgian asparagus, red mullet and meringue cake before officials broke off for separate talks.

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


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