EU Brexit talks to focus 1st on citizens' rights

Citizens' rights, Britain's exit bill, and separation issues such as the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland will be addressed first, the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier of France, and the UK's Brexit Secretary David Davis announced at a joint news conference in Brussels.

The UK has agreed to conduct Brexit negotiations in two phases, as top negotiators met for the first time in Brussels on Monday (19 June) to launch talks on the UK exiting the EU.

Britain caved in to the European Union on the opening day of the Brexit talks, when it agreed to settle its "divorce" before trying to negotiate a future trade deal.

The two negotiators, who are certainly going to get to know each other well over the next two years, exchanged gifts to mark the occasion that reflected their mutual love of walking and mountaineering - Mr Barnier spent the weekend ahead of the meeting hiking in Savoie and brought his counterpart a fine, local, hand-carved walking stick.

At a press conference, Mr Davis was forced to concede that the talks would only move on to trade when the European Union decided "enough progress" had been made on its three priorities.

Brexit talks under way in the Commission's Berlaymont building on Monday.

"The question then will be: is it better to have freedom to strike new deals across the world or are we better off staying with deals that are struck by the EU?"

Mr Davis insisted he was entering the crucial negotiations in a "positive and constructive" frame of mind.

They denied strongly that Ireland had been sidelined and said it had been the issue which consumed most of their time on Monday and was technically most hard.

Germany's Europe minister, Michael Roth, said in Luxembourg that the opening of the negotiations had shown British leaders still needed a "reality check" on what they could achieve.

He insisted that his position was "completely consistent with the long-standing position" of his government, and that what matters is how the negotiation will end, not how it started.

It also appears Mr Davis and Mr Michel Barnier may have to negotiate in the dark as staff have been told to switch off all the lights.

United Kingdom negotiator David Davis says that Britain has gone into Brexit negotiations looking for a "positive and constructive tone" to deal with the myriad issues dividing both sides. We have taken the first, critical steps together. Asked if the "weakness of your negotiating position" had been exposed, Mr Davis put on a courageous face, claiming: "It's not when it starts but how it finishes that matters".

"We will discuss the issues together, tackle difficulties, lift obstacles", Barnier said, adding that for the European Union, it will be "citizens first".

"I am not in a frame of mind to make concessions, or ask for concessions".

"The best way we can spend this week is to rebuild trust", rather than tackle the big hard issues right at the start, a European source said.

"When we eventually get to the stage where the council decide we have made enough progress, both sets of dialogue will continue, including free trade". Britain, he said, would seek to leave both the single market and the customs union and forge a separate trading agreement.

  • Carolyn Briggs