Britain starts formal talks to leave the European Union(EU) on Monday June 19,2017 seeking a deal “like no other in history” despite entering fiendishly difficult negotiations with a badly weakened government.
A year after Britain’s seismic referendum on June 23,2016, Brexit minister David Davis and the European Union’s French chief negotiator Michel Barnier will meet at the European Commission in Brussels.
At stake in hugely complex talks that are expected to conclude by March 2019 is not just Britain’s future but a western political order that would be badly shaken by a failure to reach a deal.
But the situation is very different from 12 months ago when the Brexiteers were riding high, with Prime Minister Theresa May’s entire approach called into question after a disastrous election performance on June 8.
“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,” Davis said in a statement as he headed into the talks.
“I look forward to beginning work on that new future.”
Britain already appears to have capitulated to the EU’s insistence that talks first focus on three key divorce issues, before moving onto the future EU-UK relationship and a possible trade deal.
Those issues are Britain’s exit bill, estimated by Brussels at around 100 billion euros ($112 billion), the rights of three million EU nationals living in Britain and one million Britons on the continent, and the status of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
“Sitting down for a first formal negotiation round is something in and of itself,” an EU source told AFP.
Talks will begin at 0900 GMT with a joint press conference by former French foreign minister and European commissioner Barnier and Davis at around 1630 GMT.
Worried by immigration and loss of sovereignty, Britain voted last year to end its four-decades-old membership of the 28-country bloc —— the first state ever to do so —— in a shock referendum result.
An increasingly concerned EU 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 EU exit process.
Threats by Britain to walk away without a deal have also worried European capitals
David Davis (pictured arriving in Brussels today) said there is 'more than unites us than divides us' ahead of the first round of official Brexit talks with EU negotiator Michel Barnier
David Davis (centre) was joined by his key aides at the talks today, including Britain's EU ambassador Sir Tim Barrow (left) and permanent secretary Olly Robbins (right)
The negotiating teams sat across the room from each other as the talks began at the headquarters of the European Commission today