Nearly exactly a year after Britain’s referendum to leave the bloc, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier of France, welcomed his counterpart David Davis with a handshake at the European Commission in Brussels.
If Britain crashes out of the European Union without a deal, that would create huge uncertainties for citizens and businesses as well as issues like global security. We must lift the uncertainty caused by Brexit.
And the letter sent by Prime Minister Theresa May to the European Union triggering Article 50 in March had said: “We believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the European Union“.
Mr Barnier’s insistence on sticking to the EU’s priorities for the negotiations comes after Mr Davis appeared to soften his stance on the schedule for the talks. The Irish issue, long described as a priority for both, will be treated somewhat differently; avoiding a “hard border” will necessarily have to take account of how the rest of EU-UK trade will work.
An increasingly concerned European Union has been pushing London to hurry up, with time running out for a deal and three months already passed since May triggered the two-year Article 50 European Union exit process.
Anxious by immigration and loss of sovereignty, Britons voted last June to become the first nation ever to leave the 28-nation EU.
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. Even May’s own immediate political survival is in doubt, 10 days after she lost her majority in an election.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, in Luxembourg for a meeting with European Union counterparts, said the process would lead to a “happy resolution that can be done with profit and with honour for both sides”.
A spokesman for the Department for Exiting the European Union said: “We believe that the withdrawal process can not be concluded without the future relationship also being taken into account”. Johnson, who supported the “leave” campaign, said that while there would be “lots of discussions about the nature of the deal, about money and so on, the most important thing is to raise our eyes to the future”.
President Trump, who has increasingly shaky relationships with European leaders, was a vocal supporter of the United Kingdom divorcing from the E.U. during the presidential campaign. He said he hoped for a “soft Brexit“, which would leave many trade and immigration ties in place.
The working language of the negotiations will be English and French, with interpretations provided by the European Commission.
The issues at stake are daunting. European demands for British restitution have also increased, from $67 billion a few months ago to $112 billion now.
In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasized the unity of the remaining 27 European Union countries, who have been alarmed in recent weeks by May’s threats to walk out of the talks. Britain has all but acknowledged that the talks will be phased: At a press conference in Paris with French president Emmanuel Macron last week, prime minister Theresa May referred to the “good process” set out by EU.
But he made clear that only when the other 27 member states are satisfied that sufficient progress is being made on this issue that the talks can move on to the future trade relationship.
When interviewed in Luxembourg last week he twice failed to confirm that Britain would leave the single market.