Friday

22nd Mar 2019

Brexit talks begin amid uncertainty

  • Davis (l) with Barnier in Brussels on Moday (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

The UK will begin historic talks to leave the European Union on Monday (19 June), one year after voters opted to quit the bloc in a referendum.

Britain’s Brexit minister David Davis, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, and their teams will start their meeting in Brussels at 11AM and will end the day with a press conference.

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  • May to brief EU leaders at a summit this week (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The talks begin amid uncertainty on the UK government’s intentions after British voters appeared to reject its so-called hard Brexit manifesto in a snap election on 8 June, when the ruling Conservative Party lost its majority in parliament.

Davis is to say on Monday that Britain wants “both sides to emerge strong and prosperous,” according to a statement by the UK's department for exiting the EU.

At stake is how to untangle over 44 years of a complex relationship that is enshrined in thousands of pages of legal texts.

It will need to be resolved in less than two years, with the UK to exit the EU on March 2019 whether there is a deal or not, unless the 27 other member states decide to extend negotiations.

The talks begin as British prime minister Theresa May holds talks with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), whose support she now needs to form a minority government.

French president Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble have said the EU door “remains open” if the UK changed its mind on Brexit.

But the British government has ruled this out.

"Despite European leaders’ attempts to leave open the possibility of the UK remaining in the EU, Mr Davis will make it clear that he is determined to achieve a Brexit deal that works for the whole of the UK,” the British statement said.

It said Davis entered the talks "confident that he can get a positive outcome and secure a new deep and special partnership with the EU” as well as a “bold and ambitious deal”.

A year later

One year on from the Brexit referendum, the EU has put together a negotiating team and has published its position on the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU.

It has also spoken out on what Britain’s financial settlement with the EU ought to entail.

The process has created rare unity among the 27 remaining member states, whose leaders will be briefed by May at an EU summit at the end of the week.

Meanwhile, the UK’s position on what sort of future relationship it wants with the EU is still unclear.

Officials and diplomats in Brussels have voiced concern on the lack of preparation on the British side.

"It seems they still have not realised what this is all about," a senior EU member state diplomat recently told EUobserver.

May’s letter triggering the so called Article 50 exit procedure is still the most detailed document on the UK’s intention.

It highlights deep divisions between the UK and the EU’s approach to talks, especially on the sequencing of the negotiations, with the UK wanting to sort out the financial settlement in parallel with an agreement on future relations.

May has advocated a hard Brexit, leaving both the single market and the customs union.

There seems to have been no significant change in that approach since the election, but analysts have suggested that part of the reason for May’s failure was opposition to a hard Brexit.

The UK’s finance minister Philip Hammond, seen as an advocate for a softer Brexit with keeping the UK in the customs union, told the BBC on Sunday that Britain’s hard line stays.

"We will leave the customs union when we leave the European Union. That's a statement of legal fact," he said.

Hammond also said that leaving the UK without a deal would be “a very, very bad outcome” despite May previously saying that no deal is better than a bad deal. Hammond added however that a deal designed to punish the UK would be unacceptable.

First Brexit meeting to focus on organisation

Before focusing on citizens' rights, negotiators Barnier and Davis will discuss - in French and English - about the structure of talks in their first official negotiating session in Brussels on Monday.

May clings to power with Northern Irish unionists

May announced the formation of a minority government with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party. She might not be in power for too long, and the clock keeps ticking for Brexit negotiations.

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