Britain bows to EU Brexit talks timetable

Sounding conciliatory, Britain's Boris Johnson said as he arrived at a meeting with fellow European Union foreign ministers in Luxembourg that he looked forward to "a happy revolution" in relations that would be good for Britain and the rest of Europe.

Those issues are the exit bill; the rights of three million European Union nationals living in Britain and the one million Britons on the continent who now are allowed to live, work and claim welfare benefits; and the status of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Until now, British prime minister Theresa May had insisted that both discussions should be held in parallel.

"The protection of the Good Friday agreement and the maintenance of the Common Travel Area are the most urgent issues to discuss", said Barnier, adding that "concrete and imaginative" solutions will be required to control goods and services without creating a hard border.

"This first session was useful, we start off on the right foot as the clock is ticking", Barnier told a joint press conference with British counterpart David Davis.

Meanwhile, the UK's Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond pressed for a smooth Brexit to avoid a damaging "cliff edge" for businesses, Reuters reported. "In a first step, we will deal with the most pressing issues", Barnier said.

While the United Kingdom has said repeatedly that it wants out of the EU's single market and customs union - which offers tariff-free access to the EU, but requires countries to cede power to make their own trade deals - the DUP's manifesto says it wants a customs agreement and "arrangements to facilitate ease of movement of people, goods and services".

Adding to the complexity is Britain's current political situation, as May lost her Conservative majority in parliament after a snap election, sparking wide criticism of her leadership and worries about how long May and her cabinet would stay in power.

Barnier, in turn, said that he would seek "no concessions" because there was none to be found.

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. "So my mind is not on making concessions or asking for concessions".

The other European Union countries have a united position, but the British are "in chaos", Weber added.

"The best start would be to abandon the risky idea that we could leave the European Union with no deal at all, which would be the worst possible outcome for jobs and living standards in this country".

Britain now appears to have given in on the EU's insistence that the negotiations first focus on three key divorce issues, before moving on to the future EU-UK relationship and a possible trade deal. "But we are definitely ready for it because Europe is weaker without the British but I think the British would also be weaker without us Europeans". For the officials sitting down on Monday, at least on the European Union side, a major worry is Britain crashing out into a limbo, with no deal.

  • Arturo Norris