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EU, UK agree on priorities, timetable for Brexit talks

20 June 2017

Nearly exactly a year after Britain's seismic referendum to leave the bloc, the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier of France, welcomed his counterpart David Davis with a cheery handshake at the European Commission in Brussels.

Speaking in Brussels, Brexit Minister David Davis said London wanted a "new, deep and special partnership" in the interest of Britons and all Europeans, Sky News reported.

It's been almost a year since British voters approved the referendum known as Brexit to leave the European Union and almost three months since Prime Minister Theresa May formally launched the separation process.

A bigger problem may be for British negotiators to resolve what trade relationship they want.

When asked afterwards if he was confident Mr Davis would still be here to conclude these talks in 2019, Mr Barnier diplomatically said he followed United Kingdom politics closely but it was not for him to comment.

A year after Britons shocked the continent by voting on June 23 to cut loose from their main export market, new debate within Prime Minister Theresa May's cabinet on precisely what kind of trading relationship to pursue has perplexed European Union leaders, who warn time is tight to agree terms before Britain leaves in 2019.

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A key issue he did not mention was the EU's bill for Britain to leave, which Brussels estimates at a colossal 100 billion euros.

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. For one thing, renewed debate in her cabinet on how far to go with her clean break from the single market and customs union has made it hard to present a coherent set of demands in Brussels.

Different working groups will negotiate on the issues of expat rights, the financial settlement and other separation issues, while the Irish border will be the subject of a "dialogue" between the senior civil servant at the Department for Exiting the European Union, Olly Robbins, and Mr Barnier's deputy Sabine Weyand.

EU Commissioner for Internal Market and Services Michel Barnier (R) and the governor of the Bank of Finland, Erkki Liikanen, at a press conference in Brussels, Oct. 2, 2012.

The United Kingdom has until spring 2019 to conclude the negotiations. "Everyone must accept their responsibilities, the consequences of their decisions".

Barnier, in turn, said that he would seek "no concessions" because there was none to be found.

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The EU leaders would discuss progress at their October meeting. Davis said she will tell them about plans to guarantee rights for some 3 million European Union citizens in Britain under a proposal to be made next week.

Mr Barnier was asked if - given the political uncertainty at Westminster - he expected Mr Davis to remain in his post for the duration of the negotiations.

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.

Mr Barnier quoted the founder of the trading bloc that later became the EU, Jean Monnet, as saying: "I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic".

'No doubt the road ahead will be challenging but, as Winston Churchill once said: a pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity, an optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty'.

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