Britain, EU launch new talks on Brexit

BRUSSELS, Belgium―Britain and the European Union launch a new round of fraught Brexit negotiations Monday with Brussels pressing weakened British Prime Minister Theresa May to quickly set out her divorce strategy.

Brexit minister David Davis travels to Brussels to meet Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, for a second round of hugely complex haggling on Britain’s withdrawal from the bloc, scheduled for March 2019.

Ahead of four days of talks this week, Frenchman Barnier warned that the “hard work starts now” following the largely ceremonial first round of talks in June, and that the “clock was ticking” to reach a deal.

The EU has demonstrated increasing confidence in recent weeks, accusing Britain of dithering over whether it wants a “hard” or “soft” Brexit more than a year after the shock referendum that propelled May to power.

Davis said the focus would be the sensitive issue of citizens rights, and that “real progress” was paramount.

“We made a good start last month, and this week we’ll be getting into the real substance,” Davis said in a statement ahead of the talks.

Barnier and Davis last month agreed on a potential timetable for negotiations towards a future trade relationship, which Britain would like to start as soon as possible.

But Brussels insists it will only start discussing the future once there has been “sufficient progress” on key issues involved in Britain’s withdrawal―an estimated 100-billion-euro ($112 billion) exit bill, citizens rights, and the border in Northern Ireland.

“On each one of these early phase topics, our goal is to ensure that we are all working from the same basis with shared goals,” Barnier told reporters on Wednesday.

The four days of talks are set to also address more detailed concerns such as Britain’s future in Euratom, the EU’s nuclear safety agency, and the role of the European Court of Justice, the EU’s top court.

Common ground was very much lacking last week after British foreign minister Boris Johnson’s remarked that the EU could “go whistle” over its massive Brexit bill demand, drawing a rebuke from Barnier.

“I am not hearing any whistling, just the clock ticking,” said the former European Commissioner and French foreign minister.

UK finance minister Philip Hammond said Sunday that Britain will take responsibility for the money it owes, but dismissed the 100 billion euro figure as “ridiculous.”

Barnier last week held a series of meetings in Brussels with British opposition Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn and other UK figures at odds with May.

“My door is open, listen to all Brexit views,” Barnier tweeted after talks with Corbyn, Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon and Wales’s Carwyn Jones.

Topics: Britain , European Union , EU , Brexit , British Prime Minister Theresa May
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