Formal Brexit negotiations get under way in Brussels

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First on the table, Mr. Barnier said, was "identifying priorities" such as the border in Ireland and setting out a timetable for the talks.

"This first session was useful indeed to start off on the right foot as the clock was ticking", Barnier told a joint news conference with Davis at the end of the historic first session of negotiations in Brussels.

Almost a year to the day since Britons voted on the 23 June referendum to leave its main trading partner, and nearly three months since Prime Minister Theresa May set off a two-year countdown to Brexit in March 2019, May's entire approach has been called into question after a disastrous election performance on 8 June.

Officials on both sides play down expectations for what can be achieved in one day.

"Both for the European Union and the UK, a fair deal is possible, and far better than no deal, that is what I say to David today, that is why we will work all the time with the UK and never against the UK", Michel Barnier said at a joint press conference with his British counterpart David Davis, after wrapping up the opening salvo of the Brexit talks in Brussels.

Those issues are Britain's exit bill, estimated by Brussels at around 100 billion euros ($112 billion), the rights of three million European Union nationals living in Britain and one million Britons on the continent, and the status of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Frenchman Barnier struck a firm tone as he said the timetable for Britain's divorce after four troubled decades of membership made sense.

The BBC has been told by European Union sources that the talks will follow the EU's preferred pattern of exit negotiations first, with the future relations between the two sides - including the free trade deal the United Kingdom is seeking - at a later date. "A deal like no other in history".

Finance minister Philip Hammond confirmed on Sunday that Britain would be leaving not just the EU but also the single market and the customs union.

"We are not turning our backs on Europe", he said in the statement.

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

But he said that Monday morning's terror attack in London and the devastating fires in Portugal reminded him that "there is more that unites us than divides us". May, whose future is uncertain after she lost her Conservative majority in an election this month, has insisted that trade talks start immediately and run in parallel.

The head of the biggest group in the European Parliament says that what Britain wants out of the Brexit talks is a mystery as negotiations get underway. "That is what I said to David today".

The British side will be led by the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, David Davis, while the EU side will be led by the chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.

But EU leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, are also determined not to make concessions to Britain that might encourage others to quit.

She added: "I hope that we will reach a good agreement".

Asked if the European Union had made any concession to the UK, Barnier said: "The UK has chose to leave the EU".

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