Britain, EU start Brexit talks
No punishment, but exit good for no one: Germany
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.”
“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.