Brexit negotiations kick off almost a year after referendum

"Ultimately, if the Government is really out to get the best deal for Britain, they must be open to compromise on more than just the timetable of the talks, and start putting our economic prosperity at the heart of their negotiating strategy", he said.

"Today we agreed on dates, we agreed on organisation and we agreed on priorities for negotiations", he told a joint press conference with his British counterpart David Davis. Officials on both sides are playing down expectations of what can be achieved in one day.

"We have the Lancaster House speech, the two white papers and the article 50 letter, all backed up by a manifesto - and so it's the same as it was before", he said, reiterating that Britain will leave the single market and seek to set up a free trade arrangement with the EU.

But both sides have now agreed to set up working groups on European Union citizens' rights, the size of Britain's "divorce bill" and borders - but not, crucially, future trade.

Frenchman Barnier struck a firm tone as he said the timetable for Britain's divorce after four troubled decades of membership made sense.

Germany's deputy foreign minister, Michael Roth, told RBB Inforadio that "we must of course protect our interests as the European Union 27 but naturally we also don't want to punish Britain".

Mr. Barnier has said he hopes to conclude the talks by October 2018, leaving six months to ratify the deal.

"Today marks the start of the journey for the United Kingdom and the European Union". We keep hearing that they don't want a 'Norway model, ' they don't want a 'Swiss model, ' they want to leave the customs union, the internal market, they want to limit migration.

Anxious by immigration and loss of sovereignty, Britain voted previous 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. While Brexit is not on the agenda, she is expected to rub shoulders with other European Union leaders, providing her opportunities to discuss the U.K.'s impending departure.

The formal negotiations kick off after British Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party performed poorly in a recent snap election she called in order to provide her with more leverage during the Brexit negotiations.

The UK has made a major concession on the first day of Brexit talks, accepting that a trade deal can only be discussed after a multi-billion pound "divorce bill" is settled.

But EU leaders say that before trade talks can begin they want to work out three other issues.

The UK Government has announced that due to the amount of legislative work involved in the Brexit preparations, the next parliamentary session will be extended from 1 year to 2 years.

Davis, who unlike May has long campaigned to leave the EU, will meet chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier, a former French minister, at the European Commission's Berlaymont headquarters at 11 a.m. (0900 GMT).

"There is more that unites us than divides us", Davis said, referring to the latest reported terror attack overnight in London and the loss of lives in forest fires in Portugal.

"I would like us to get a good agreement that is in both sides' interests".

Macron, a committed pro-EU leader and ally of Merkel, also easily won French legislative elections on Sunday, cementing his power base.

  • Leroy Wright