Brexit negotiations begin as chief EU, Britain negotiators underline constructive attitude

“We keep hearing only what they don’t want, but we don’t have any picture of what future relations will look like”.

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michael Barnier (R) welcomes Britain’s Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis at the European Commission ahead of their first day of talks in Brussels, June 19, 2017.

Barnier said there was agreement that the negotiators would first look at citizen’s rights, the outstanding bill Britain must pay for previous European Union commitments and the Irish border issue.

The “hardball” European Commission chief negotiator will be across the table from Mr Davis and has already been established as a something of a villain for Brexiteers.

May had promised to take Britain completely out of the bloc’s common trading area and slash the number of people coming from the EU.

“There is more that unites us than divides us”, he said, adding that Britain was looking for a “positive and constructive tone” in the talks.

There will be haggling over the terms, over money, but “the most important thing is to raise our eyes to the future. and think about the deep and special partnership that we want to build with our friends”, he said.

European stocks rose today, partly on optimism about the talks actually getting underway after months of sniping and uncertainty, analysts said.

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”.

“Interest rates on savings are very low, we are talking in the region or 0.01 per cent to 0.04 per cent, so locking up cash is not all that attractive”.

Anxious by immigration and loss of sovereignty, Britain past year voted to end its decades-old membership of the 28-country bloc – the first country ever to do so – in a shock referendum result.

Last year’s Brexit vote came as a profound shock to Brussels against a backdrop of rising anti-EU sentiment, with many – including now US President Donald Trump – predicting the bloc’s eventual break-up.

And even when May finally triggered the two-year unraveling process on March 29, she followed it up with an early election she counted on winning big, only to lose her majority in the June 8 poll.

Britain appears to have given in on the EU’s insistence that talks first focus on three key divorce issues, before moving onto the future EU-UK relationship and a possible trade deal.

Those issues are Britain’s exit bill, estimated by Brussels at around 100 billion euros ($112 billion), the rights of three million European Union nationals living in Britain and one million Britons on the continent, and the status of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

The EU says it will not compromise on its core “four freedoms”: free movement of goods, capital, services and workers.

The European Court of Justice could be asked to rule on whether the deal requires approval by each EU state.

Yet 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.

IG’s Josh Mahony said: “Comments from German Foreign Minister Gabriel has indicated that there is a “soft Brexit” route for the United Kingdom, yet with free movement of labour required to enable access to the single market, it is clear that many would be left wondering whether this this is even a Brexit at all”.

“If we re going to radically change the way we work together, we need to get there via a slope, not via a cliff edge”, he said.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.

Barnier has warned that the negotiations must be wrapped up by October 2018 to allow time for all parties to ratify a final accord by March 2019.