Brexit talks begin in Brussels

After nearly a year of waffling, Britain finally opens negotiations with its European Union counterparts on Monday about leaving the bloc. “And fair means that we want to keep the British as close as possible to the European Union – but never at the price that we divide the remaining 27 European Union states”.

The EU says Britain can’t leave without settling its bill, paying up for all its commitments that are still ongoing, including projects that might reach into the next decade, as well as the U.K.’s share of EU staff pensions.

After seven hours of talks in Brussels, Mr Davis – who had previously promised the “row of the summer” over the timetable for the negotiations – said he was optimistic about the talks.

Sidelined for months by his boss Theresa May, Britain’s finance minister Philip Hammond has returned to the political frontline, criticising the prime minister over her recent election campaign and calling for pragmatism in Brexit talks that begin on Monday.

That source, and another in the Conservative party, said May’s misjudged election gamble had undermined her authority, leaving her in the thrall of the two wings of her party that have differing views for Brexit – “purists” who want a clean break and “remainers” pressing for close ties.

May officially triggered the two-year Brexit process in March when she was riding high in opinion polls, and called for fresh elections shortly afterwards to shore up her mandate for a tough Brexit stance.

Davis said he was looking for a “positive and constructive tone” to deal with the myriad issues dividing both sides.

While Britain’s economy has shown unexpected resilience since the Brexit vote, there are signs of weakness.

While Britain has struggled to agree on and present a coherent list of demands, the 27 European Union nations have had one message all along – in the words of Barnier on Monday: “We must first tackle the uncertainties caused by Brexit”. Brexit will deliver “a deal like no other in history”, he added.

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 majority regard as pure folly.

But the turmoil of the euro zone crisis, fears in Britain about immigration and a series of miscalculations by former Prime Minister David Cameron prompted Britain to vote by 52 to 48 percent for Brexit in a June 23 referendum a year ago. An EU official said Britain still refused to accept it would owe Brussels anything. The election left an image of a dysfunctional Britain coming up against a well-oiled European Union negotiating machine.

Indeed, when it is taken into account that, in addition to the enormous bill which is looming, the United Kingdom electorate has never been asked to give a specific view on other vital issues, including the future of the single market, the customs union and the jurisdiction of European Court of Justice, a powerful case can be made for a second referendum on the validity of any final agreement.

“We have to be very clear that we’re not going to do it in a way that damages the economy”, he said. European Union diplomats hope this first meeting, and a Brussels summit on Thursday and Friday where May will encounter – but not negotiate with – fellow European Union leaders, can improve the atmosphere after some spiky exchanges.

The so-called Brexit bill is likely to be the biggest hurdle in the early negotiations.

The EU side has said that this willonly happen when “sufficient progress” has been made on phase one and that they will determine the level of progress. “We keep hearing only what they don’t want, but we don’t have any picture of what future relations will look like”.