European Union says divorce bill, citizens' rights focus of Brexit talks

An EU official close to the matter said the "softer Brexit" talk could be "productive" and help progress in the first months, where the British attitude to discussing the financial settlement "will be the first serious test of the negotiations".

A week after May lost her majority in an election she had called in the hope of strengthening her hand in the talks, some fellow Conservatives want her to focus more on limiting the damage to business and less on cutting immigration and other ties to the European Union when Britain leaves the bloc in March 2019.

Theresa May's failure to win a majority at the General Election has led to suggestions her Brexit plan to leave the EU's Single Market and Customs Union could be altered, while rival parties have demanded involvement in exit talks following the inconclusive result.

Besides forging a deal to keep her job and preparing for Brexit talks, May is also grappling with a crisis over the breakdown in power-sharing between the pro-British DUP and the Catholic nationalist Sinn Fein party in Northern Ireland's separate, devolved government.

Talks are due to begin on Monday, before the new government has been agreed upon. The talks must be completed and endorsed by parliaments by the end of March 2019.

The Prime Minister will attend the European Council summit to discuss issues such as migration and security, but will be absent from a dinner when the 27 other national leaders review the start of the Brexit process.

In Luxembourg, Britain's finance minister said that protecting jobs and the economy should be the main focus in upcoming discussions.

"My clear view, and I believe the view of the majority of people in Britain, is that we should prioritise protecting jobs, protecting economic growth, protecting prosperity as we enter those negotiations and take them forward", Hammond said.

"But it's also really important we make sure the Brexit deal we secure is one that's in the interests of the whole country and that means that we need to ensure that those who voted Remain are part of the conversation about what the best deal for Britain is in the future".

European Union officials said they were ready to talk now and handed Robbins texts of their position on two priority issues - rights for European Union citizens in Britain and London's financial obligations on departure.

Brexit minister David Davis will travel to Brussels to meet Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, to kick off hugely complex withdrawal negotiations that are expected to last less than two years. "But the withdrawal and future are intimately linked".

If May now sends a team to Brussels - ideally on schedule on Monday - that shows willing on the EU's priority "Phase One" issues, then trade talks could get under way by the turn of the year - a step-by-step timetable Barnier says must be followed to limit the risk of a disruptive "no deal".

  • Zachary Reyes