Britain kicks off Brexit negotiations with EU

The election of the fervently europhile Mr Macron, and his party’s sweep of the French parliament on Sunday, has revived optimism in Brussels.But who are the officials that will be working to define Britain’s Brexit deal? He and Davis are due to give a joint news conference in the evening. An early election this month, in which Prime Minister Theresa May lost her majority, only added to the problems.But her leadership has been thrown into doubt after her decision to call an early election in order to bolster her hand in Brexit negotiations backfired spectacularly this month.Officials on both sides play down expectations for what can be achieved in one day.Britain is due to leave the European Union at midnight Brussels time (11pm in the UK) on March 29 2019 – unless an extension is agreed by all 27 remaining member states – with or without an agreement. “A deal like no other in history”, Brexit Secretary David Davissaid in a statement as he headed into the talks.”I look forward to beginning work on that new future”.Terms of reference agreed by both sides envisage four rounds of talks on the first phase of discussions, in the weeks starting July 17, August 28, September 18 and October 9, implying trade talks are unlikely to open until after the European Council summit of October 18/19.Before moving onto the future EU-UK relationship and a possible trade deal, the talks will first focus on three key divorce issues, including Britain’s exit bill, estimated by Brussels at around €100 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.Davis and the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, meet with the United Kingdom keen to win back sovereignty without hurting its economy, while the EU’s aim is to maintain regional stability and stop inadvertently rewarding Britain’s decision to leave for fear of encouraging others to break away.Today’s talks are likely to focus on the practical details of timings for the coming months, with the big, divisive issues left aside for now, officials said.But he said that Monday morning’s terror attack in London and the devastating fires in Portugal reminded him that “there is more that unites us than divides us”.It will test the ingenuity of thousands of public servants racing against the clock to untangle 44 years of European Union membership before Britain is out, 649 days from now, on March 30, 2019. Such conversations mark a shift from the pre-election talk of a “hard Brexit” and May’s onetime warning she would walk away from the talks if disappointed.”The protection of the Good Friday agreement and maintenance of the common travel area are the most urgent issues to discuss”, Michel Barnier, the European Commission chief Brexit negotiator, said.Although 48 percent voted to remain in the European Union, more recent polls suggest that a significant proportion of those voters now believe it is the government’s duty to pursue Brexit.Despite signals from both France and Germany last week that Britain would still be welcome to stay if it changed its mind, Brexit minister David Davis insisted yesterday there would be no turning back. In any case, European Union officials say, London no longer seems sure of what trade arrangements it will ask for. We can only hope there is; after all, the 27 nations of the European Union have used the last three months to get their ducks in line on their terms for Britain’s departure from the bloc, while the tides have been changing here following the hung parliament.