Davis calls for special partnership with Brussels as Brexit talks begin

They agreed on Monday that talks until October should focus on citizens rights, a financial settlement and other separation issues, with a separate dialogue on Northern Ireland.

"Today we agreed on dates, we agreed on organisation and we agreed on priorities for negotiations", he said after the talks at the European Commission in Brussels.

The general election earlier this month - called abruptly by Prime Minister Theresa May to bolster her majority and show a united Brexit face to Brussels - backfired spectacularly, and cost her Tories dearly.

May and other senior officials, including Brexit Secretary David Davis, stressed last week that the British government's priorities and timetable for negotiations had not changed as a result of the election.

Anxious by immigration and loss of sovereignty, Britons voted last June to become the first nation ever to leave the 28-nation EU.

For that reason, Brussels wants as a priority to guarantee rights for 3 million European Union citizens in Britain and be paid tens of billions of euros it says London will owe on its departure.

He vowed to seek "a deal that works in the best interests of all citizens" with Mr Barnier as the pair began their discussions at the commission's Berlaymont headquarters in the Belgian capital.

Speaking ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg he said the talks should aim to prepare the ground for a "deep and special partnership" that London wants with the European Union.

Mr Barnier said it was important to tackle uncertainties caused by Brexit.

As the next round of talks begin, attention is likely to turn to the Brexit bill and the rights of European Union citizens living in the UK.

The talks at the European Commission's headquarters kicked off just shy of a year after the Brexit referendum, when U.K. voters chose to leave the EU by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin, and almost three months after U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May sent a letter formally triggering the withdrawal process.

Mr Davis and Mr Barnier, both keen hikers, exchanged mountaineering-related gifts to mark the start of talks, with the EU's chief negotiator joking about the "steep and rocky path" ahead.

"I want to reiterate at the outset of these talks that the United Kingdom will remain a committed partner and ally of our friends across the continent".

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.

Davis said Prime Minister May will also set out at an EU summit on Thursday her proposals for the rights of the three million EU nationals living in Britain, and one million Britons in the EU, with the British government to publish a detailed offer next Monday. And just over a month ago, Mr Davis said dealing with the issue of how the talks would unfold would be the "row of the summer".

"The best way we can spend this week is to rebuild trust", another European source said. "I am certainly a determined optimist".

  • Leroy Wright