Talks begin over British divorce from European Union

Arriving in Brussels to meet with the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, Brexit secretary David Davis said he wanted to approach talks in a "positive and constructive" manner. "First for citizens, also for beneficiaries of European Union policies and the impact on borders, in particular Ireland".

Davis brushed off a suggestion that a weakened Conservative government had dropped objections to a Brussels timetable, which would deal first with European Union priorities, including its demand Britain settle a "Brexit bill", and leave the talks on free trade that May wants until at least late this year.

Only when "sufficient, concrete progress" on the first phase has been made will Mr Barnier recommend to the European Council that the negotiations can enter the next stage, taking in the future trading relationship, with that recommendation possibly coming at October's summit of EU leaders.

'There is more that unites us than divides us, ' Davis said, according to Reuters.

While the United Kingdom has said repeatedly that it wants out of the EU's single market and customs union - which offers tariff-free access to the EU, but requires countries to cede power to make their own trade deals - the DUP's manifesto says it wants a customs agreement and "arrangements to facilitate ease of movement of people, goods and services".

Mr. Davis is expected to say: "We want both sides to emerge strong and prosperous, capable of projecting our shared European values, leading in the world, and demonstrating our resolve to protect the security of our citizens". "That will be in our mutual interest, but we 27 will formulate our interests very clearly and hopefully together".

Britain is due to leave the European Union at midnight Brussels time (11pm in the UK) on March 29 2019 - unless an extension is agreed by all 27 remaining member states - with or without an agreement.

The EU had demanded early agreement on the rights of EU nationals living in the United Kingdom, the Brexit divorce bill and the Northern Irish border, before any discussions could begin on a trade deal.

"Today we agreed on dates, we agreed on organisation and we agreed on priorities for the negotiation", Barnier said.

Last year's Brexit vote came as a profound shock to Brussels against a backdrop of rising anti-EU sentiment, with many - including now US President Donald Trump - predicting the bloc's eventual break-up.

"We hope that the government will listen to the voices of the manufacturing industry, the employers and the unions in regards to what needs to be done on membership of the single market and customs unions as without both we anticipate a negative impact".

David Davis and I, as chief European Union negotiator, will discuss the issues together, tackle difficulties, and lift obstacles.

A special dialogue involving senior negotiators from each side has been set up to consider the issue, with Mr Davis' official Olly Robbins holding talks with Mr Barnier's deputy Sabine Weyand on the issue.

"But it has nothing to do with the negotiations in the House of Commons", he said in reference to the ongoing government-forming talks in London.

Yet many in Brussels fear that London has no real strategy, with May under pressure at home, still trying to close a deal with a conservative Northern Ireland party to stay in power, and facing criticism for her handling of the aftermath of a devastating tower block fire. "We hope we can get a reasonable and fast resolution". In practice that is likely to mean the negotiations will need to be wrapped up by the autumn of 2018 in order to allow time for the deal to be ratified.

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