Britain kicks off Brexit negotiations with EU

Patrice Gainsbourg
Junho 20, 2017

After nearly a year of waffling, Britain finally opens negotiations with its European Union counterparts on Monday about leaving the bloc.

Anxious by immigration and loss of sovereignty, Britain voted past year to end its four-decades-old membership of the 28-country bloc - the first state ever to do so.

Five of the UK's leading business organisations are calling for the government to maintain access to the Single Market and Customs Union until a Brexit deal is reached and to prioritise the rights of EU citizens in the UK.

The situation is very different from 12 months ago when the Brexiteers were riding high, with Prime Minister Theresa May's entire approach called into question after a disastrous election performance on June 8. Yet Davis entered the talks representing a government in disarray.

European Union negotiator Michel Barnier said the negotiations which should lead to a breakup by March 2019 "must first tackle the uncertainties caused by Brexit - first for citizens, but also for the beneficiaries of the European Union policies and for the impact on borders, in particular Ireland".

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 a lot of them regard as pure folly.

Britain's political instability has caused concerns in European capitals hoping to get the negotiations over with quickly and cleanly, as has May's oft-repeated threat to walk away from the talks without a deal if necessary.

The EU said it was also looking for a good compromise.

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After the first day of the crucial negotiations which have the potential to shape the UK's economic and political future for a generation, it was agreed that working groups of officials would aim to make progress on the issues of citizens' rights, the UK's financial settlement - the so-called divorce bill - and other issues to do with separation.

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

The agenda for the meeting was agreed earlier this month following preparatory "talks about talks". "We will work all the time with the UK, and never against the UK", Barnier said.

United Kingdom negotiator David Davis and the EU's Barnier have one key issue over the first weeks of talks: building trust after months of haggling over leaks and figures over the final bill that Britain would have to pay for leaving.

They will first have to unravel the British from the European Union, which will be challenging to say the least.

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

"Both of us want to achieve the best possible outcome and the strongest possible partnership", Davis said. "That will be in our mutual interest, but we 27 will formulate our interests very clearly and hopefully together".

Many in Brussels fear that London has no real strategy, with May under pressure at home, still trying to close a deal with a conservative Northern Ireland party to stay in power, and facing criticism for her handling of the aftermath of a devastating tower block fire.

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