Merkel urges EU to stick together after Brexit talks launched

"If you ask me, 'Are we going to make concessions?' I must tell you that it is the United Kingdom leaving the EU, the single market, the customs union and not the other way around", the former European commissioner and French foreign minister told a joint press conference with Mr Davis, AFP reported.

"We are ... determined to build a strong and special partnership between ourselves, our European allies and friends", Davis said before the talks. "I'm well aware that throughout the process there will be points of compromise".

Responding to a call from Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond for the U.K.to be allowed a transition period when it leaves the EU in 2019, Barnier said that while he too favored such an approach, European courts would be in charge of checking Britain wasn't breaking the rules.

In public, European Union negotiators have kept their satisfaction in check, however, and Barnier was at pains to sound conciliatory.

After the first day of the crucial negotiations which have the potential to shape the UK's economic and political future for a generation, it was agreed that working groups of officials would aim to make progress on the issues of citizens' rights, the UK's financial settlement - the so-called divorce bill - and other issues to do with separation.

European Union negotiator Michel Barnier said the negotiations which should lead to a breakup by March 2019 "must first tackle the uncertainties caused by Brexit — first for citizens, but also for the beneficiaries of the European Union policies and for the impact on borders, in particular Ireland".

Mr Davis said the talks had resulted in an "ambitious but eminently achievable timetable".

"I think it is important that whatever deal is done here involves all of the parties, not just the big two", said Mr Coveney. He said once there was sufficient progress on those, the talks would start looking at the EU's new relationship with Britain.

The aim is to make sufficient progress to get leaders of the other 27 European Union countries to agree to move on to talks on a future relationship with Britain, including a trade deal, he said.

He said those were the rights of expatriate citizens and problems of a new EU-UK border, notably cutting across Ireland.

"There is a long way to go, but we are off to a promising start". We also have to find solutions to maintaining all the commitments of the Good Friday Agreement.

"Our other key Brexit priority is ensuring we retain access to European Union labour, particularly permanent staff, without which our industry could not operate as it does today".

In a joint press conference with his British counterpart David Davis, Barnier said that they have agreed on the dates and on the priorities of the talks.

"We are citizens first. That will be in our mutual interest, but we 27 will formulate our interests very clearly and hopefully together".

He insisted: 'We will be leaving the single market - we'll be seeking to set up a free trade agreement.

  • Leroy Wright