Brexit talks get underway
The UK embarked on its historic negotiations to leave the EU on Monday as the first official Brexit talks get underway in Brussels.
The start of the long-awaited start of negotiations has been partly overshadowed by political chaos in Westminster, where UK finance minister Philip Hammond warned on Sunday that failing to strike a deal would be “a very, very bad outcome”.
This contradicts what UK Prime Minister Theresa May has said in the past that “no deal is better than a bad deal”.
Brexit negotiators are hoping to shore up confidence in their hardline approach to the start of talks by making early progress on citizens’ rights, both those of EU citizens living in the UK and British citizens in European countries.
On Friday, it was announced that the UK had agreed to comply with the EU’s insistence that citizens’ rights and the size of the divorce bill must be resolved before moving on to discussions about future trade arrangements.
According to a UK government source, the UK team that travelled to Belgium on Sunday are confident it can achieve a “bold and ambitious” deal that will work in the interest of the whole UK.
Secretary of State for Exiting the EU David Davis, who heads the UK side, will also use the negotiations to build a new, deep and special partnership with the EU, said the source.
During the first day of talks, Davis is expected to say that the start of negotiations will shape the future of both the EU and UK.
He will say, “We want both sides to emerge strong and prosperous, capable of projecting our shared European values, leading in the world, and demonstrating our resolve to protect the security of our citizens.
“I want to reiterate at the outset of these talks that the UK will remain a committed partner and ally of our friends across the continent.
“And while there is a long road ahead, our destination is clear - a deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU. A deal like no other in history.I look forward to beginning work on that new future today.”
The opening of the negotiations will take place at the European Commission’s Berlaymont headquarters and will be a one-day event, starting at 11am and continue over a working lunch.
The session will close in the late afternoon with a joint press conference by Davis and Michel Barnier, who heads the EU side.
After Monday’s opening discussions, future talks between the two sides are expected to be held once a month. Each session is expected to last up to one week.
The future of the EU agencies currently based the UK will have to be resolved. The eventual deal will have to be ratified by each member state and signed off by the European Parliament.
Speaking on Sunday on the eve of the start of the Brexit talks, Hammond said, “We’re leaving the EU and because we’re leaving the EU we will be leaving the single market.”
He added, “We will leave the customs union when we leave the EU. That’s a statement of legal fact. The question is what we put in place and what we put in place may not be a single arrangement that endures forever, it may be an arrangement which lasts for a couple of years as a temporary measure before we get to the long term agreed status quo for relations between the UK and the EU. This is all a subject of negotiation.”
On a no deal scenario, Hammond said, “No deal would be a very, very bad outcome for Britain. But there is a possible worse outcome and that is a deal that is deliberately structured to punish us and I would not agree to [such] a deal.”
Ashley Fox, leader of Conservative MEPs in Parliament, welcomed the start of the negotiations, saying, “Today, the UK government begins negotiating our departure from the EU. The election result was clearly not the one we were hoping for, but the Conservatives remain the largest party in Parliament and the only one that can lead the country through the talks ahead.
"Theresa May has a clear plan to secure a comprehensive new relationship with the EU that delivers prosperity and security for us all. One year on from the referendum, it is time to get to work and deliver for Britain."
ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt, parliament’s Brexit negotiator, said last week that the UK is welcome to stay in the EU but would have to accept poorer terms than is currently the case.
European economic and financial affairs commissioner Pierre Moscovici said Brexit will be “neither ‘hard’, nor ‘soft’, but amicable and firm.”
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EU leaders on Friday were digesting an offer from UK Prime Minister Theresa May that would allow about three million EU citizens living in the UK to stay after Brexit.
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