UK, EU agree on priorities, timetable for Brexit talks

British Brexit Minister David Davis (far left) and the EU's chief negotiator, Mr Michel Barnier, started the talks on a positive note.
British Brexit Minister David Davis (left) and the EU's chief negotiator, Mr Michel Barnier, started the talks on a positive note.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

LONDON • Britain and the European Union have agreed on the priorities and timetable for Brexit negotiations after the first session of talks yesterday, EU pointman Michel Barnier said.

"Today we agreed on dates, we agreed on organisation and we agreed on priorities for negotiations," he told a joint press conference with his British counterpart David Davis.

Reuters reported that the two chief Brexit negotiators agreed that talks until October should focus on citizens' rights, a financial settlement and other separation issues, with a separate dialogue on Northern Ireland, a document showed.

A terms-of-reference document agreed by Mr Barnier and Mr Davis said further talks would be held in the weeks starting on July 17, Aug 28, Sept 18 and Oct 9.

The working language of the negotiations will be English and French, with interpretations provided by the European Commission. Both sides want transparency to be the default.

The Brexit talks, which finally began yesterday, came almost a year after Britons voted to leave the EU and amid confusion over what exactly the British government wants from the divorce.

What Mr Davis described as the "most complicated negotiation of all time" began with Prime Minister Theresa May's government already on the back foot.

An attempt to strengthen her hand by calling an election backfired and she has run into further domestic strife since, while the 27 other EU members started out with more leverage anyway.

Mr Davis told reporters earlier: "We are starting this negotiation in a positive and constructive tone. There is more that unites us than divides us." He had struck a conciliatory tone in an earlier statement, emphasising Britain and the EU's "shared European values".

As for the EU side, it is expecting to have the final say on what Brexit entails, no matter what Britain seeks.

While denying they want to punish their neighbour, EU officials have warned Britain against trying to "cherry-pick" the benefits of membership and said it would be left worse off outside the bloc.

The mood was "incredibly positive" on the first day of Brexit talks between the two sides and they acknowledged that it was time to move quickly, a British source said.

"I think it was recognition by all sides that the clock is ticking and we do really need to push on with this now and start to make positive strides towards getting a deal that is in both sides' interests," the source said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2017, with the headline 'UK, EU agree on priorities, timetable for Brexit talks'. Print Edition | Subscribe