Speaking at a joint news conference with May, the Republic of Ireland’s new Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said that the border should be “invisible”.
May, bruised by an election this month that cost her Conservatives their parliamentary majority, will make her case for a quick agreement on residency for EU nationals and employment rights at a summit of European leaders in the Belgian capital later this week.
The concession on the sequencing of talks may have little effect on the final settlement – the United Kingdom wanted divorce talks in parallel with those on a trade deal – but it underlined Whitehall concerns that the government may have overestimated its leverage.
He said: “It is at testing times like these that we are reminded of the values and the resolve that we share with our closest allies in Europe”.
“A fair deal is possible, and far better than no deal …”
Davis said the talks were off to a “promising start” and denied that Britain had caved in on the sequencing of the talks.
Mr Barnier did not mention a third European Union priority – that Britain settle a bill of tens of billions of euros before it leaves in 21 months.
The UK Government said in a press release that Davis is “confident that he can get a positive outcome and secure a new deep and special partnership with the European Union”.
Investors are anxious that Britain could crash out of the European Union without an exit agreement in place, an outcome that would mean steep new barriers to trade.
“We must lift the uncertainty caused by Brexit“, Barnier said. European Union officials have long insisted on covering the topics in sequence. Mr. Hammond wants an agreement that will allow tariff-free access to the Single Market, disrupt freedom of movement, whilst allowing the United Kingdom to sign its own trade deals across the world.
“Business groups can help with the negotiations over trade, which is the model every other Government involved in trade negotiations operates, and we need to be brought in quickly to do this. Every one must assume the consequences, they are massive”, he said.
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.
“In the first step we will deal with the most pressing issues”.
Davis gave Brussels’ chief negotiator a book on mountaineering – an account of a French expedition to the Himalayas – while Barnier presented Davis with a traditional carved wood hiking stick from his home region of Savoie.
Regarding the future relationship with the EU, Davis said Britain has not changed its position, reiterating that Britain will leave the single market and the customs union, which is “the only way” to allow Britain to develop free trade agreements with non-EU countries. He said once there was sufficient progress on those, the talks would start looking at the EU’s new relationship with Britain.