Brexit talks begin with UK in disarray

Brexit negotiations

The announcement of the formal start of discussions was agreed on Thursday between Britain's Brexit minister David Davis and the European Commission's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

The EU insists that phase one of talks will focus only on the terms of withdrawal, and not on a future trade relationship.

Barnier and Davis, who last met briefly in November, appeared relaxed and were on first-name terms, but the two sides begin discussions poles apart on a host of contentious issues, particularly the size of any Brexit settlement and the compatibility of Britain's trade ambitions with European Union law on immigration.

A poll published over the weekend shows that a slim majority of Britons now want the chance to vote on the terms of Brexit when the talks are concluded.

The chancellor said he would reject any deal "designed to destroy us".

The Frenchman has been given a mandate by the leaders of the remaining EU27 states to focus initially on the key elements of the withdrawal package - a multi-billion euro "divorce bill", rights for European Union citizens and the status of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. The UK has ruled out paying such a sum, suggesting it could seek a chunk of the EU's assets as part of a "fair settlement", although it might have to pay something to ease a trade accord.

Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker was said to have reacted with incredulity at a suggestion by Theresa May when they met for dinner in Downing Street in April that an agreement could be wrapped up at the next European Union summit in Brussels at the end of June.

Some of her ministers want to refashion her strategy toward protecting trade with Britain's biggest market rather than continue to aim for her original goal of winning control of immigration and law-making.

Brussels first mentioned a figure of 60 billion euros (53 billion pounds, $67 billion) but it is now closer to 100 billion, European Union sources told AFP.

But the true figure could be far lower, as the 100 billion does not account for tens of billions that Britain is set to get back in shared assets and rebates. The most important ask from business - nearly more important than what the end result looks like - is that we have a smooth path to get there.

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It is expected talks will take place once a month in Brussels as they work through the issues to be resolved.

Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson appeared to muddy the waters within his own party by backing Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson's call for an "Open Brexit", but aligning it more to a hard rather than soft outcome.

Mr Hammond also said that by leaving the EU the United Kingdom would leave the single market and customs union.

"In the first step, we will deal with the most pressing issues".

What that future relationship will look like remains anyone's guess.

It is also 82 days after Theresa May sent a letter formally notifying the European Council of Britain's intention to withdraw.

We keep hearing that they don't want a 'Norway model, ' they don't want a 'Swiss model, ' they want to leave the customs union, the internal market, they want to limit migration.

The most important opportunity to develop some personal chemistry between Barnier and Davis is likely to come during a 15-minute one-on-one meeting around noon, before they are joined by a couple of officials each for a private lunch.

If no trade deal has been reached by this point, UK-EU relations could be governed by a "transitional arrangement" for some months or years.

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