Finally, Britain kicks off Brexit negotiations with EU

Philip Hammond

Philip Hammond

After nearly a year of waffling, Britain on Monday finally opens negotiations with its European Union counterparts about leaving the bloc, with the final outcome, due in 2019, as important as it now seems unpredictable.

A beaming Brexit Secretary David Davis, a veteran campaigner against European Union membership, told a sombre Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, 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.

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

Some MPs within the Conservatives are now pressing the Prime Minister to pursue a softer Brexit.

Still, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson remained upbeat Monday, saying he thinks the Brexit negotiations will yield "a happy resolution that can be done with profit and honor for both sides".

She told BBC One's Sunday Politics: "Where you have politicians right across the European Union and the United Kingdom who share the desire for a successful outcome, with low tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers, free trade between ourselves, co-operation on security and so on, it should be perfectly possible to meet the time frame".

The move backfired, May lost her Conservative majority in the vote and has been fending off critics of her leadership ever since.

Mr McDonnell told Sophy Ridge on Sunday: "Well I'm afraid the problem with the Brexit talks is that we have a Government in disarray".

"While there is a long road ahead, our destination is clear - a deep and special partnership between the United Kingdom and the EU". It now numbers 28 members.

"In testing times like these we are reminded of the values and resolve we share with our closest allies in Europe", he said, referring to the latest reported terror attack overnight in London and the loss of lives in forest fires in Portugal.

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

He said he hoped that during their single day of talks, he and Mr Davis would be able to identify priorities and a timetable for the ongoing negotiations, so that he can report back to leaders of the other 27 EU states at the European Council summit in Brussels on Thursday.

After Davis and Barnier met over lunch in the Commission's top floor dining rooms, their teams broke up into "working groups" that will be charged with handling specific areas of talks that the European Union expects to take place for a week every month. He has said a divorce deal should be ready by October next year to give time for parliamentary approval.

May has said she is open to some kind of association agreement with the customs union and wants to avoid any so-called "cliff-edge" into uncertain trading conditions, but she has also said Britain must be able to control immigration - something it can not do while a member of the EU.

September 24 - German federal elections could see Angela Merkel replaced as Chancellor by former European Parliament president and staunch federalist Martin Schulz, who once called for the creation of a "genuine European government".

When 52 percent of British voters opted for Brexit, some feared for the survival of a Union battered by the euro crisis and divided in its response to chaotic immigration.

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