Britain, EU start Brexit talks

No pun­ish­ment, but exit good for no one: Ger­many

Arab Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

BRUS­SELS, June 19, (AFP): Britain and the Euro­pean Union be­gan their first for­mal Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions Mon­day, un­der pres­sure to seal a deal amid dis­ar­ray in Lon­don over whether to go for a hard or soft di­vorce.

At stake is not just Britain’s fu­ture but also Europe’s post-war po­lit­i­cal or­der and its place in the world which could be fa­tally un­der­mined with­out an agree­ment by the March 2019 dead­line.

The EU’s chief ne­go­tia­tor, France’s Michel Barnier, wel­comed his coun­ter­part David Davis with a hand­shake and smiles for the press in the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion’s land­mark head­quar­ters in cen­tral Brus­sels flanked by the EU and Bri­tish flags.

“To­day we are launch­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions on the or­derly with­drawal of the UK from the EU,” said Barnier, a for­mer Euro­pean com­mis­sioner and French foreign min­is­ter.

Their first task must be to “tackle the un­cer­tain­ties caused by Brexit,” he said, cit­ing the rights of EU cit­i­zens in Britain and the pos­si­ble im­pact on the open bor­der be­tween North­ern Ire­land and the repub­lic.

“I hope that to­day we can iden­tify pri­or­i­ties and a timetable to al­low me to re­port to (EU lead­ers) later this week (that) we had a con­struc­tive open­ing of ne­go­ti­a­tions.”

Davis, a prom­i­nent tough-talk­ing fig­ure in the “Leave” cam­paign, sounded a pos­i­tive note too, say­ing “there is more that unites us than di­vides us.”

Re­minded

“In test­ing times like these we are re­minded of the val­ues and re­solve we share with our clos­est al­lies in Europe,” he said, re­fer­ring to the lat­est re­ported ter­ror at­tack overnight in Lon­don and the loss of lives in for­est fires in Portugal.

Davis said the talks would be car­ried out in “a pos­i­tive and con­struc­tive tone,” with Britain look­ing to forge a “strong and spe­cial part­ner­ship for the fu­ture.”

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.

May of­fi­cially trig­gered the twoyear Brexit process in March when she was rid­ing high in the opin­ion polls.

She then an­nounced -- de­spite hav­ing ruled it out re­peat­edly -- that she would seek a fresh man­date to give her the author­ity to push through a Brexit deal, or even walk away with­out one if need be.

But in­stead she lost her par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity, putting that hard-line ap­proach and her po­lit­i­cal fu­ture in doubt af­ter the dis­as­trous June 8 elec­tion.

Britain ap­pears to have given in on the EU’s in­sis­tence that the ne­go­ti­a­tions­first fo­cus on three key di­vorce is­sues, be­fore mov­ing onto the fu­ture EU-UK re­la­tion­ship and a pos­si­ble trade deal.

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

Mean­while, a se­nior Ger­man of­fi­cial is stress­ing that the Euro­pean Union doesn’t want to pun­ish Britain for leav­ing, but says its de­par­ture will not be good for the UK or the rest of the EU.

For­mal Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions be­gin Mon­day, nearly a year af­ter Bri­tons voted to leave.

Ger­many’s deputy foreign min­is­ter, Michael Roth, told RBB In­fora­dio that “we must of course pro­tect our in­ter­ests as the EU 27 but nat­u­rally we also don’t want to pun­ish Britain.”

Roth said that “Brexit is a very, very dif­fi­cult op­er­a­tion” and there’s only a bit over a year to ne­go­ti­ate it. He added: “Brexit won’t make any­thing bet­ter, but it will make a lot of things more dif­fi­cult. And we want to try to solve the dif­fi­cult things as well as pos­si­ble.”

May’s elec­tion de­ba­cle has re­vived feud­ing over Europe among Con­ser­va­tives that her pre­de­ces­sor David Cameron hoped to end by call­ing the ref­er­en­dum and leaves EU lead­ers un­clear on her plan for a “global Britain” which most of them re­gard as pure folly.

While “Brex­i­teers” like Davis have strongly backed May’s pro­posed clean break with the sin­gle mar­ket and cus­toms union, fi­nance min­is­ter Philip Ham­mond and oth­ers have this month echoed calls by busi­nesses for less of a “hard Brexit” and re­tain­ing closer cus­toms ties.

With dis­con­tent in europhile Scot­land and trou­bled North­ern Ire­land, which faces a new EU bor­der across the di­vided is­land, Brexit poses new threats to the in­tegrity of the United King­dom.

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