Brexit talks to focus first on orderly exit

"A fair deal is possible, and far better than no deal ..."

Nearly a year after British voters took the decision to leave the bloc, Davis took a team of officials to open the negotiations with Barnier in the European Commission's Berlaymont building on Monday.

In a sign of his approach, Mr Davis quoted Sir Winston Churchill's dictum that "the pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity".

Mr Davis said, "Ever since the referendum, I have been clear that my first priority is to provide certainty to European Union citizens living in the United Kingdom, and to UK citizens resident in the European Union - and I know Michel shares that aspiration too".

Davis, answering a question, said Britain's negotiating position had not changed as a result of his Conservative Party's poor showing in recent elections.

"He will also set out a bold vision for the UK's future after it leaves the European Union and the exciting opportunities that will arise from our exit", added the statement.

"So what we're seeing is a big debate about economics versus identity, and the Government's going to have to try and tread what is a very rocky road".

Securing a quick deal on citizens' rights is the top priority. 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.

They first exchanged gifts - a mountain walking stick from Barnier's Savoy region in the French Alps for Davis, a book on Annapurna climbing for Barnier.

Davis said the timetable for the talks was "ambitious but eminently achievable".

Solving the vexed question of keeping the peace and an open border between the United Kingdom province of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic will also be an urgent priority in the talks, Barnier and Davis agreed.

Mr Coveney, who was taking part in the latest talks initiative in Belfast for the first time since his appointment last week, said he believed all five parties were up for making a deal. "And we agreed that we stand a much greater chance of success if our teams work together as that's been demonstrated today", added the Brexit secretary.

As required by the European Union, negotiations will start with the divorce itself, and when "sufficient progress" has been achieved, they will move onto discussing the future relationship between the bloc and the UK.

Davis brushed off a suggestion that a weakened Conservative government had dropped objections to a Brussels timetable, which would deal first with European Union priorities, including its demand Britain settle a "Brexit bill", and leave the talks on free trade that May wants until at least late this year.

"We launch negotiations in a positive and constructive tone, determined to build a strong and special partnership between ourselves and our European allies and friends in the future".

Mr Barnier has said a divorce deal should be ready by October next year to give time for parliamentary approval.

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.

  • Zachary Reyes