Brexit: With the clock ticking, Britain, EU play up chance of deal

The European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michael Barnier welcomes Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis at the European Commission ahead of their first day of talks in Brussels Belgium

The European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michael Barnier welcomes Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis at the European Commission ahead of their first day of talks in Brussels Belgium

The two chief negotiators, Michel Barnier of the European Union and David Davis from Britain, immediately set off to find common ground in their working relationship, an important touchstone to see how amicable the biggest political divorce in decades will become.

In a major defeat, Brexit Secretary David Davis was forced to drop his central demand for the two strands of the negotiations to be staged in parallel, within hours of arriving in Brussels.

Those were, he said, the rights of expatriate citizens and problems of a new EU-UK border, notably cutting across Ireland.

In the wide-ranging survey which involved over 10,000 people, including a group from Britain, 57% said the European Union had been weakened by the UK's decision to leave the bloc.

In addition to the working groups, a "dialogue" has been established to deal with the Irish border issue, under the authority of Barnier and Davis' right hands, Sabine Weyand and Olly Robbins.

"We will discuss the issues together, tackle difficulties, lift obstacles", Barnier said, adding that for the European Union, it will be "citizens first".

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With discontent in europhile Scotland and troubled Northern Ireland, which faces a new European Union border across the divided island, Brexit poses new threats to the integrity of the United Kingdom.

The Brexit secretary David Davis had previously rejected this and predicted that it would be the "row of the summer" once negotiations began.

The UK has now agreed to enter talks on divorce proceedings, including Britain's exit bill and the border with Northern Ireland, before any talks on future trading relations can begin.

"We are citizens first. It's much more important to get the negotiations off to a good start and get rattling through them than getting stuck on a debate about money", he said, adding that time pressure also heightened the need for transitional arrangements.

"First, we will need a new process for establishing regulatory requirements for cross-border business between the United Kingdom and EU".

"We will then publish a detailed paper, outlining our offer on Monday, which I believe will form the right basis on which to reach agreement".

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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.

Barnier quoted Jean Monnet, one of the European Union founding fathers: "I'm neither optimistic nor pessimistic, I am determinate".

Barnier warned the United Kingdom faced "substantial" consequences as a result of Brexit but insisted it was "not about punishment" or revenge. "In coordination with Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, the intention is to be in an unusual way, transparent", said Barnier, as both the European Commission and European Council presidents will take part in informative talks with the EU member states.

May's government said it was "confident it can achieve a bold and ambitious deal that will work in the interest of the whole U.K".

"The pessimist see difficulty in every opportunity, the optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty".

Meanwhile Barnier, a former French minister, insisted the talks must first address the "uncertainties" caused by Brexit.

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Mr Barnier and Mr Davis will reconvene for a second round of talks in the week commencing July 17.

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