Saturday, December 4News That Matters

Historic Brexit negotiations begin in Brussels

By Mark Stone, Europe Correspondent in Brussels, and Alessandra Rizzo, Political Reporter

British and European Union negotiators have begun historic talks on Britain leaving the bloc – with both sides seeking to strike a positive tone.

Speaking in Brussels, Brexit Minister David Davis said London wanted a “new, deep and special partnership” in the interest of Britons and all Europeans.

“There is more that unites us than divides us,” he said, adding that Britain was looking for a “positive and constructive tone” in the talks.

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said he hoped they could agree a format and timetable on Monday.

The former French minister said his priority was to clear up the uncertainties that the Brexit vote had created.

The start of the talks – almost exactly a year after the 23 June referendum – marks a highy symbolic moment as Britain undertakes the complex task of leaving the bloc after more than 40 years of integration.

Earlier, Boris Johnson said the talks would lead to a “happy resolution” for both Britain and the European Union.

“I think the whole process will lead to a happy resolution which can be done with honour and profit to both sides,” the Foreign Secretary said as he went into a separate meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

“The most important thing I think now is for us to look to the horizon… think about the future, and think about the new partnership, the deep and special partnership that we want to build with our friends.”

Mr Davis and his team are holding meetings with their opposite numbers at the European Commission, which is leading negotiations on behalf of the European Union member states.

Speaking ahead of the talks, Mr Davis said: “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.”

The UK and EU flags are hung on poles outside the European Parliament in Brussels
Video:What does the election result mean for Brexit?

The British team includes the permanent secretary at the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) Olly Robbins; Phillip Rycroft, the department’s second permanent secretary; and Simon Case, the newly appointed director-general of the UK-EU Partnership. Mr Case was principle private secretary to the Prime Minister before talking up this role.

Other officials around the table include Glyn Williams, director-general at the Home Office, who will bring his expertise on immigration issues, and Catherine Webb, a former treasury official, who is director of Market Access at DExEU.

This first meeting will last just a day with a joint news conference expected by both Mr Davis and Mr Barnier when they emerge.

Brexit Secretary David Davis will begin formal negotiations next week
Image:Brexit Secretary David Davis will begin formal negotiations next week

Sky News understands that the UK team has spent the weekend finalising their negotiating strategy which has been called into question following the unexpected election result.

Theresa May had called for voters in the election to choose her “strong and stable leadership” to ensure that the UK had a strong hand in the Brexit negotiations. However, the shock result and loss of a Conservative majority has reopened the debate over what sort of Brexit the UK wants.

Mr Barnier spent the weekend mountain hiking near his home in the French Alps. In a tweet on Sunday afternoon, he said: “Back this weekend in my countryside, Savoie, to draw the strength and energy that the long hike requires…”

Ever since the UK invoked Article 50 in March, triggering its formal intention to leave the EU, the European side has said it was ready to begin negotiations. However, they were delayed to allow for the UK general election.

Three key issues will dominate the first phase of the talks.

They include the status and rights of EU citizens living in the UK and British citizens living in the EU, the financial commitments the EU expects Britain to pay as it leaves – the so-called ‘exit bill’ – and the question over the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

When Britain leaves the EU, the Irish border will become the EU’s only land frontier with the UK.

If the UK opts for a Brexit in which it leaves the single market and the customs union, the Irish border would become a closed border unless negotiators can agree on creative solutions.

When exactly will the UK leave the EU?
Video:Perspective: Brexit in British history

Once agreement has been made in this phase of the talks, the second phase discussing the future trade relationship can begin.

The EU side has said that this willonly happen when “sufficient progress” has been made on phase one and that they will determine the level of progress.

On Sunday, the International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, flew to Washington DC on his first trade trip since the election.

Dr Fox is meeting a congressional delegation on Capitol Hill in an attempt to pave the way for a UK/US free trade agreement. The UK is unable to sign such deals while it remains a member of the EU but can explore options and develop ties.

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