After nearly a year of waffling, Britain on Monday finally opens negotiations with its European Union counterparts about leaving the bloc, with the final outcome, due in 2019, as important as it now seems unpredictable.
As Davis met the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels on Monday morning, Davis hoped the talks would be “positive and constructive” in their tone. The talks that are largely expected to conclude by March 2019, will decide Britain’s future amidst the geopolitical tussle, but will also decide upon the future of the world political order.
With barely 21 months left until the deadline to reach a deal on the first ever departure of an European Union country, negotiators said the first full round of talks would not start until July 17 – a sign that pressure is likely to mount as they confront a dizzying array of complex issues, including citizens’ rights and a financial settlement.
Davis brushed off a suggestion that a weakened Conservative government had dropped objections to a Brussels timetable, which would deal first with European Union priorities, including its demand Britain settle a “Brexit bill“, and leave the talks on free trade that May wants until at least late this year. It left an image of a dysfunctional Britain coming up against a well-oiled European Union negotiating machine.
He vowed to seek “a deal that works in the best interests of all citizens” with Mr Barnier as the pair began their discussions at the commission’s Berlaymont headquarters in the Belgian capital.
He said once there was sufficient progress on those, the talks would start looking at the EU’s new relationship with Britain.
European stocks rose today, partly on optimism about the talks actually getting underway after months of sniping and uncertainty, analysts said.
“I would like us to get a good agreement that is in both sides’ interests”.
“We must think about the deep and meaningful partnership with Europe“, he said.
Anxious by immigration and loss of sovereignty, Britain voted previous year to end its four-decades-old membership of the 28-country bloc – the first state ever to do so.
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.
But he also refused to discuss concessions to Britons who, in the eyes of most European Union leaders, are committing an act of self-harm.
Today’s talks are likely to focus on the practical details of timings for the coming months, with the big, divisive issues left aside for now, officials said.
After the initial shock of last year’s Brexit vote, the bloc at 27 appears to have steadied in recent months and got a real boost with the election of new French President Emmanuel Macron in May.
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.
Davis stuck to May’s script on Monday, saying without qualification that Britain would be leaving Europe’s single market and its customs union.
The Chancellor insisted there must be transitional arrangements to avoid a “cliff edge”, and he indicated temporary measures could be in place for a couple of years before a final deal is sealed.
This is published unedited from the PTI feed.