Britain, EU launch Brexit talks in Brussels

EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier, welcomed UK's counterpart David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, as the British have responded positively to Barnier's call to open the negotiations at a political level, a week after preparatory "talks about talks" at a civil service level.

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 March 30, 2019.

"We must think about the deep and meaningful partnership with Europe", he said. Brexit will deliver "a deal like no other in history", he added.

"I look forward to beginning work on that new future today".

British foreign minister Boris Johnson, like Davis a prominent backer of the leave campaign, also sounded an upbeat note.

"I think the whole process will lead to a happy resolution which can be done with honour and profit to both sides", Johnson said.

Mr Davis tried to calm the waters as he arrived in Brussels this morning with a conciliatory speech towards Europe, telling them he wanted to achieve a good deal and that there is "more that unites us than divides us".

He noted the European Union wants to discuss divorce terms before moving on to the shape of its future relations with Britain.

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.

Barnier, a former French minister, has voiced impatience in the past that Britain has taken almost a year to open talks.

The Mechanical Engineering Industry Association, known by its German initials VDMA, says that that goal of the two-year negotiating process is "damage limitation" because Brexit won't benefit either side.

Anxious by mass immigration and loss of sovereignty, Britain previous year voted to end its decades - old membership of the 28 - nation bloc in a shock referendum result.

Monday's talks however are likely to focus on the practical details of timings for the coming months, with the big, divisive issues left aside for now, officials said.

A spokesman for the Department for Exiting the European said: "We believe that the withdrawal process can not be concluded without the future relationship also being taken into account". "The most important thing is the fact that we are here", said one Whitehall official.

With her strategy unclear and her position insecure, Prime Minister Theresa May plunges this week into tortuous divorce talks with the European Union that will shape Britain's prosperity and global influence for generations to come.

Poll finds majority support for a softer Brexit.

In a report in the Welt am Sonntag newspaper he suggested if United Kingdom allowed free movement for Europeans it would be able to keep full access to the single market and also offered a major concession of "a joint court that is staffed by Europeans and Britons which in principle follows the decisions of the European Court of Justice". Business leaders have already warned against such a "cliff edge" scenario and are eager to see a transitional period to give them time to adjust after the split.

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