Almost a year since the UK voted to leave the European Union, Brexit talks finally open on today.
What British Brexit Secretary David Davis describes as the “most complicated negotiation of all time” has began at 11am in Brussels with British prime minister Theresa May’s government already on the backfoot.
An attempt to strengthen her hand by calling an election backfired and she has been forced into doing a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party, talks on which are ongoing.
Mr Davis travel to Brussels to begin the talks with the European Commission’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier which will focus on the status of expats, the UK’s “divorce bill” and the Northern Ireland border.
But British officials are likely to continue to push for an agreement on trade relations to be dealt with alongside a deal on the withdrawal process.
British chancellor Philip Hammond has warned failing to secure a Brexit deal would be “very, very bad” for the country and insisted there must be transitional arrangements to avoid a “cliff edge”.
Mr Davis will be accompanied by a nine-strong negotiating team that includes the most senior civil servants at the department as well as officials from the Treasury and Home Office as well as Mark Sedwill, the national security adviser to the prime minister.
The Brexit Secretary is expected to say: “Today marks the start of negotiations that will shape the future of the European Union and the United Kingdom, and the lives of our citizens.
“We want both sides to emerge strong and prosperous, capable of projecting our shared European values, leading in the world, and demonstrating our resolve to protect the security of our citizens.
“I want to reiterate at the outset of these talks that the UK will remain a committed partner and ally of our friends across the continent.
“And while there is a long road ahead, our destination is clear — a deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU. A deal like no other in history.
“I look forward to beginning work on that new future today.”
The agenda for the meeting was agreed earlier this month following preparatory “talks about talks”.
The European Commission released a statement at the time saying discussions would focus on “issues related to citizens’ rights, the financial settlement, the Northern Irish border and other separation issues, as part of the sequenced approach to the talks”.
But the British government still wants to negotiate its future trade relationship with the EU “alongside” talks on the terms for Brexit.
Mr Hammond said yesterday no deal would be a “very, very bad outcome” but he would not agree to a deal that would “destroy” Britain.
“It’s a statement of common sense that if we are going to radically change the way we work together, we need to get there via a slope, not a cliff edge,” he told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show.
Meanwhile, the DUP’s Ian Paisley jnr, MP for North Antrim, said his party wants out of the customs union.
“You can’t be half-pregnant. We are either in or out of the EU,” he said. “Issues about the Border are a distinct issue that can be resolved if will is there to do it and in spite of all the gibberish about the problems associated with it, the will is there to ensure the Border works for trade.”
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will meet British prime minister Theresa May in London this afternoon and tell her Brexit must not adversely affect the “rights and freedoms” of Irish citizens.
Mr Varadkar’s first visit to the UK as Taoiseach coincides with the commencement of the negotiations in Brussels as well as the resumption of talks in Belfast between Northern Ireland’s political parties aimed at restoring the Stormont Executive.
Source: Irish Times