David Davis: ‘Solid foundation’ laid for Brexit talks

United Kingdom negotiator David Davis and the EU’s Barnier have one key issue over the first weeks of talks: building trust after months of haggling over leaks and figures over the final bill that Britain would have to pay for leaving.

“Today we agreed on dates, we agreed on organisation and we agreed on priorities for negotiations”, he told a joint press conference with his British counterpart David Davis.

A terms-of-reference document agreed by the EU’s Michel Barnier and Britain’s Brexit Minister David Davis said further talks would be held in the weeks starting on July 17, August 28, September 18 and October 9.

The two sides have until March 2019 to complete and ratify a deal on the U.K.’s divorce from the European Union after more than four decades of membership and to try to shape a future partnership between Britain and its neighbors.

Day one of the negotiations will start at about 11:00 BST at European Commission buildings in Brussels.

The UK has agreed to conduct Brexit negotiations in two phases, as top negotiators met for the first time in Brussels on Monday (19 June) to launch talks on the UK exiting the EU.

The UK has now agreed to enter talks on divorce proceedings, including Britain’s exit bill and the border with Northern Ireland, before any talks on future trading relations can begin.

A bigger problem may be for British negotiators to resolve what trade relationship they want.

“They can be more relaxed about Britain crashing out without a deal that could destabilize the EU economy and destabilize the eurozone”, said Charles Grant, the director of the Centre for European Reform, a London-based think tank.

“We are … determined to build a strong and special partnership between ourselves, our European allies and friends”, Davis said before the talks. The top European Union negotiator, Michel Barnier, a former foreign minister of France, gave Davis a walking stick from his home region in the Alps.

“That position hasn’t changed, it’s the same as it was before”, said Davis, a tough-talking figure in the “Leave” campaign in last year’s Brexit referendum.

Finance minister Philip Hammond confirmed Sunday that it was still the plan to quit not only the EU but the customs union and single market as well.

“Because membership of the single market requires the four freedoms [of people, goods, services and capital] to be abided, and [because] we need to bring back to Britain control of our laws, control of our borders, we’ll be leaving the single market”, he said.

She had hoped to strengthen her government’s hand in the negotiations by holding a snap election this month and solidifying the hold of her Conservative Party on the parliament.

“For both the European Union and the United Kingdom, a fair deal is possible and far better than no deal”.

The talks at the European Commission’s headquarters kicked off just shy of a year after the Brexit referendum, when U.K. voters chose to leave the EU by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin, and almost three months after U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May sent a letter formally triggering the withdrawal process.

The EU appear to have claimed the first victory of the talks.

“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.

As Europe grows more confident in its future after the election victory in France of pro-EU President Emmanuel Macron and the growing assurance from German Chancellor Angela Merkel that she will be re-elected in September, analysts say there may be fewer reasons for Europe to compromise.

“So we have got a very sensitive political context, a very clear objective which is to preserve all the dimensions of the Good Friday Agreement and we have an terrible lot of work to do – bilaterally, and also in coordination with the Dublin government on my side, so that we come up with imaginative and concrete solutions along the lines I have described, particularly taking into account the single market”.