Merkel urges EU to stick together after Brexit talks launched

Francois Lenoir  Reuters

Francois Lenoir Reuters

Talks for Brexit, Britain's exit from the EU, have finally begun - a year after the Brits voted for leaving the Union. The EU is not so keen, as it seems to think this offers it some leverage over the UK.

"I'm not in a frame of mind to make concessions", Barnier told reporters at the end of the first day of talks in Brussels.

Davis and Barnier, who chatted in English over lunch but used interpreters for some of their more serious talks, made use of their shared love of hill-walking to lighten the mood.

But Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel - who has strongly argued for European Union unity on Brexit - said Tusk should let it be.

The situation could embolden the European Union negotiators in the Brexit talks and weaken the British side, though it is still far from certain how the talks, which are due to last two years, will play out.

The British and EU Brexit negotiators agreed how to organise talks on Britain's divorce at a first meeting in Brussels on Monday, where both sides stressed goodwill but also the huge complexity and tight deadline.

May had previously refused to guarantee the rights of European Union citizens in Britain until those of expatriate Britons were secured.

Tusk meanwhile insisted the remaining 27 members had a renewed sense of optimism about the bloc's future after years of crisis and mounting anti-EU sentiment culminating in the Brexit vote.

But her emollient tone chimed with the government's less adversarial approach to the talks since the snap general election wiped out May's majority. "We launch negotiations in a positive and constructive tone, determined to build a strong and special partnership between ourselves and our European allies and friends in the future".

Mr Davis also brushed off the idea Britain's negotiating stance could change given political instability in the UK.

"This first session was useful to start off on the right foot".

The EU proposals stipulate that the European Commission should have "full powers" to monitor and the ECJ "full jurisdiction" for as long as citizens' rights remain protected under the withdrawal agreement.

"The question then will be: is it better to have freedom to strike new deals across the world or are we better off staying with deals that are struck by the EU?"

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

"It is why we will work all the time with the United Kingdom and never against the UK".

The most senior officials on either side will lead work on efforts to resolve the problem of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, a situation Mr Barnier acknowledged was "politically sensitive" at a time when the Tory government was seeking the support of the Democratic Unionist Party to prop up Mrs May's minority government.

The discussions set to take place this month will mostly focus on three major aspects - citizens' rights, financials and other issues related to the separation process.

"We agreed that our closest collaborators will start a dialogue on Ireland".

"We've laid solid foundations for future discussions and an ambitious but achievable timetable", said David Davis, Britain's Brexit minister, adding he was "encouraged" by the first talks.

"It's not when it starts it's how it finishes that matters", he said.

Speaking over dinner at the Brussels summit, Mrs May told leaders of the other 27 European Union nations: "The UK's position represents a fair and serious offer and one aimed at giving as much certainty as possible to citizens who have settled in the UK, building careers and lives and contributing so much to our society".

"It's not about punishment, it is not about revenge".

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