Britain and European Union launch Brexit talks in Brussels

Judith Bessette
Junho 19, 2017

British Brexit minister David Davis heads to Brussels on Monday to open divorce talks with the EU with a message that there should be "no doubt - we are leaving the European Union".

With the clock already ticking on the UK's two-year departure from the bloc, Brexit Secretary David Davis will meet the European Commission's chief negotiator Michel Barnier to hold their first formal Brexit talks on Monday. But the turmoil of the euro zone crisis, fears in Britain about immigration and a series of miscalculations by former Prime Minister David Cameron prompted Britain to vote by 52 to 48 percent for Brexit in a June 23 referendum a year ago. But that entire approach has come under question following the June 8 general election in which Prime Minister Theresa May lost her center-right Conservative party's parliamentary majority. The government's current weakness has fuelled criticism of its approach to Brexit and given rise to notions that the government might pursue a softer tone. 53% of people said that there should be a second vote on Brexit.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told Sunday's Welt am Sonntag newspaper that "maybe there is now a chance to achieve a so-called "soft Brexit.'" But he said staying in the single market would require Britain to accept European Union workers" freedom of movement. Leaving the European Union was once far-fetched: only 15 years ago, British leaders were arguing about when to join the euro, and talk of an EU exit was the reserve of a motley crew of skeptics on the fringes of both major parties. One European diplomat in London said the political upheaval was such that it was hard to know what to write back to his capital, pouring scorn on May's campaign slogan of "strong and stable leadership". Britain and the European Union are already at odds over the order of the talks, with London insisting future trade ties should be discussed at the same time as the divorce despite opposition from Brussels. The negotiations have been called the most complex in Britain's history as it unravels 44 years of membership and its threat to walk out with no deal in place has anxious European capitals.

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DUP leader Arlene Foster has said she wants a "sensible Brexit" that works for the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

Chancellor Philip Hammond said the Government's priority in the negotiations should be to protect jobs, economic growth and prosperity. Working groups will be set up to focus on three key areas - the status of EU citizens living in Britain and British citizens living in the EU; the divorce bill for Britain; and the future of the Northern Irish border with EU member Ireland.

In this Wednesday June 14, 2017 photo German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel speaks during a press conference at the ministry of foreign affairs in Berlin, Germany.

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