Representatives for the United Kingdom (U.K.) and the European Union (EU) kicked off Brexit negotiations in Brussels on June 19, nearly 12 weeks after Britain's prime minister triggered the mechanism that would let it depart from the EU.
Adding to the complexity is Britain's current political situation, as May lost her Conservative majority in parliament after a snap election, sparking wide criticism of her leadership and worries about how long May and her cabinet would stay in power.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told Sunday's Welt am Sonntag newspaper that "maybe there is now a chance to achieve a so-called "soft Brexit.'" But he said staying in the single market would require Britain to accept European Union workers" freedom of movement.
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"Today we agreed on dates, we agreed on organisation and we agreed on priorities for negotiations", Barnier told journalists, describing the four-week model that the European Union had proposed during the initial technical talks that took place the week before Davis agreed to land to the Belgian capital.
"To that end, we are starting negotiations in a positive and constructive tone, determined to build a strong and special partnership between ourselves and our European partners and friends in the future", he said.
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Britain, a member of the European Union since 1973, is the first country ever to leave the bloc, following a surprise result in a referendum a year ago.
Though less visibly upbeat than veteran Brexit campaigner Davis, Barnier insisted the two sides would work together for a "fair deal" that would not "punish" Britain.
"As Brexit talks begin, it's important the voice of universities is heard clearly in the negotiations", Universities UK president and University of Kent vice-chancellor Dame Julia Goodfellow said.
At the first day of talks in the Belgian capital, roughly a year after the UK's Brexit referendum, Mr Barnier made clear they would proceed according to the timetable set by the European Union, under which progress on the terms of withdrawal must be made before any discussions on a future trading relationship.
There are widespread questions over whether Britain may soften its Brexit goals outlined before the election, which include taking the United Kingdom out of the EU's single market for goods and services and the bloc's customs union. There's a long way to go but we're off to a promising start.
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Mr Lighthizer said: "As the United States' fifth largest export market, the United Kingdom is an invaluable trading partner".
He also stuck to May's position that Britain will pursue a completely new trade agreement with the union. We have taken the first, critical steps together.
The UK kicked off talks in Brussels with both sides agreeing a schedule for dialogue as they attempt to pave the way to Brexit.
"The best way we can spend this week is to rebuild trust", rather than tackle the big hard issues right at the start, a European source said. There will be no hostility on my side.
The Brexit Secretary exchanged hiking gifts with his counterpart to symbolise the uphill challenge ahead.
"They can be more relaxed about Britain crashing out without a deal that could destabilize the EU economy and destabilize the eurozone", said Charles Grant, the director of the Centre for European Reform, a London-based think tank.
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