Tough talks get Brexit un­der way

Bri­tain weak­ened af­ter poll

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

BRI­TAIN and the EU be­gan talks to sever their 43-year part­ner­ship, start­ing un­prece­dented di­vorce ne­go­ti­a­tions that will shape fu­ture re­la­tions be­tween them.

Dis­cus­sions be­gan with an im­me­di­ate con­ces­sion from the Bri­tish over how the talks will be struc­tured, a dis­play of the weak­ness of the Bri­tish po­si­tion in the face of an un­usual de­gree of unity among the EU’s 27 re­main­ing mem­bers.

Bri­tish pol­i­tics were thrown into tur­moil af­ter vot­ers nar­rowly de­cided just short of a year ago to leave the EU, long a source of love­hate angst in Bri­tish pol­i­tics.

The move top­pled one leader and may be close to top­pling a sec­ond, Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May, af­ter a crip­pling elec­tion ear­lier this month in which her Con­ser­va­tives lost their ma­jor­ity.

De­spite sharp splits in London over what to seek in the di­vorce, the lead Bri­tish ne­go­tia­tor vowed that his na­tion would plunge on­ward with a full dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence, damp­en­ing ex­pec­ta­tions af­ter the elec­tion that Bri­tain would now move to pre­serve some ties with Brus­sels.

“To­day marks the start of a jour­ney for the United King­dom and for the Euro­pean Union,” the Bri­tish min­is­ter charged with ne­go­ti­at­ing the deal, David Davis, said on Mon­day af­ter a day of meet­ings with his EU ne­go­ti­at­ing coun­ter­part, Michel Barnier.

“There’s no doubt that the road ahead will at times be chal­leng­ing.”

The Brexit vic­tory shocked even back­ers of the mea­sure and un­leashed a wave of na­tion­al­ism and pop­ulism that was seen as help­ing to sweep Don­ald Trump into the White House.

But Bri­tish so­ci­ety has re­mained deeply di­vided about the mean­ing of the Brexit vote and the ex­tent to which lead­ers should pull out of wide-rang­ing re­la­tion­ships that have de­liv­ered pros­per­ity and frus­tra­tion to gen­er­a­tions of Bri­tish cit­i­zens.

Speak­ing along­side Davis, Barnier of­fered a grave out­look about what lies ahead.

“The United King­dom has asked to leave the Euro­pean Union, it’s not the other way around,” said Barnier, speak­ing in French, a de­ci­sion that it­self is a mea­sure of Bri­tain’s wan­ing in­flu­ence in Europe.

“The con­se­quences are sub­stan­tial,” he said. But he added that the EU ap­proach to Bri­tain will not be “about pun­ish­ment, it’s not about re­venge”.

Euro­pean lead­ers have re­peat­edly said that Bri­tain need not go through with its plans for di­vorce – although they have been tough about what a split would mean if it hap­pens.

Barnier, a veteran French politi­cian, has been vested by the EU to en­force their no-com­pro­mise red lines that any deal for Bri­tain must not be more favourable than the one it has as a full mem­ber.

His first vic­tory came on Mon­day, when he forced Bri­tain to ac­cept the EU timetable for the talks: first a ne­go­ti­a­tion over the split, and only then a dis­cus­sion about the fu­ture re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two sides.

Bri­tain had sought for the talks to pro­ceed in par­al­lel, a struc­ture that would have given London more bar­gain­ing power. The is­sues at stake are daunt­ing. Un­re­solved is ev­ery­thing from the sta­tus of EU cit­i­zens liv­ing in Bri­tain, to in­tel­li­gence shar­ing, to the fu­ture of tens of thou­sands of Bri­tish jobs that could be wiped out if busi­nesses move to Europe to avoid new trade bar­ri­ers.

So far, Euro­pean lead­ers have re­mained united that Bri­tain can­not have full ac­cess to Euro­pean mar­kets un­less it also al­lows full ac­cess to its own.

Euro­pean de­mands for Bri­tish resti­tu­tion have also in­creased, from $67 bil­lion a few months ago to $112bn now, a mea­sure of the de­gree of EU tough­en­ing against May.

May her­self is a deeply weak­ened leader who was badly dam­aged af­ter the par­lia­men­tary elec­tions this month swept away her Con­ser­va­tive ma­jor­ity.

PIC­TURE: AP

The EU’s chief Brexit ne­go­tia­tor Michel Barnier, left, with the Bri­tish Secretary of State for Ex­it­ing the EU, David Davis.

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