EU's Barnier looks forward to 'constructive' Brexit talks

BRUSSELS-The U.K. and the European Union concluded their first day of negotiations over Britain's departure from the bloc with the EU securing its preferred timetable for the talks and divergent views immediately emerging over a divorce bill the EU is demanding from London.

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.

The wait is finally over: David Davis has arrived in Brussels for the first day of Brexit talks.

Barnier said after welcoming Davis that it was important to tackle uncertainties caused by Brexit.

Even though May triggered the two-year process on March 29, negotiators will have to get a full agreement much faster than March 2019.

She said: "We continue our discussions with the DUP".

But the government still wants to negotiate its future trade relationship with the European Union "alongside" talks on the terms for Brexit.

On Sunday, Chancellor Philip Hammond criticised the way the election campaign had been run and sidestepped questions over how long the PM would remain in power, saying: "Theresa is leading the Government and I think the Government needs to get on with its job".

Barnier said there was agreement that the negotiators would first look at citizen's rights, the outstanding bill Britain must pay for previous European Union commitments and the Irish border issue.

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Quoting Winston Churchill, Davis said in response: "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty".

May's government has developed a strategy of so-called "hard Brexit": leaving the European single market and the customs union in order to control immigration from the EU.

Though less visibly upbeat than veteran Brexit campaigner Davis, Barnier insisted the two sides would work together for a "fair deal" that would not "punish" Britain.

By contrast, fewer than 10% of Greeks travel to another European Union country once a year, and more than 60% have never been another European Union country at all. "To that end, we are starting this negotation in a positive and constructive tone, determined to build a strong and special partnership between ourselves and our European allies and friends for the future".

Dr Fox said: "Our valuable talks underlined the shared interest in forging a closer trade and economic relationship including making progress on policy coordination, regulatory issues and expanding trade and investment between our economies".

They first exchanged gifts - a mountain walking stick from Barnier's Savoy region in the French Alps for Davis, a book on Annapurna climbing for Barnier.

It will test the ingenuity of thousands of public servants racing against the clock to untangle 44 years of European Union membership before Britain is out, 649 days from now, on 30 March 2019.

Reflecting the sensitivity of the topic, questions over Northern Ireland are to be handled in a "dialogue" between deputy negotiators, which London hopes will open the way to discussing matters relating to future trade.

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