Negotiations between the UK and the EU have got off to a “promising start”, Brexit Secretary David Davis says.
Mr Davis gave a joint press conference alongside EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier after day one of the talks in Brussels.
The initial focus will be on citizens’ rights, a financial settlement and “other separation issues”.
Discussions aimed at preserving the Good Friday Agreement and common travel area in Ireland will also begin.
The two men set out the structure for the initial negotiations. There will be one week of negotiations every month.
Working groups of “senior experts” will be set up to focus on the three main areas.
On citizens’ rights, Mr Davis said there was “much common ground”.
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Earlier Mr Davis said he was determined to build a “strong and special partnership” with the EU.
Mr Barnier said he wanted to agree key priorities and a timetable for discussions.
The UK is set to leave the EU by the end of March 2019, following last year’s referendum vote.
The BBC’s Europe editor Katya Adler said the opening session would be a “trust-building exercise” after all the “mud-throwing” of recent months.
Who’s who in the UK delegation?
- David Davis: Secretary of State for Exiting The EU
- Tim Barrow: UK permanent representative to the EU
- Oliver Robbins: permanent secretary at the Department for Exiting The EU
- Glynn Williams: director general at the Home Office
- Mark Bowman: director general, international finance at HM Treasury
- Simon Case: director general, UK-EU partnership team
- Alex Ellis: director general at the Department for Exiting the EU
- Christian Jones: press officer to David Davis
Arriving in Brussels, Mr Davis said there would be “challenges” ahead but he believed the two sides could reach an agreement on the terms of the UK’s exit which “works in the best interests of all citizens”.
“We are starting this negotiation in a positive and constructive tone, determined to build a strong and special partnership between ourselves and our European allies and friends for the future.”
Mr Barnier said a “constructive” opening to negotiations was vital in setting the tone for what he hoped would be an “orderly” process.
“We must first tackle the uncertainties caused by Brexit – first, for citizens but also for the beneficiaries of EU policies and for the impact on borders, in particular Ireland,” he said.
Prior to the start of talks, the two men exchanged gifts reflecting their shared love of hill walking and mountaineering.
Mr Davis gave his counterpart a first edition of a mountaineering book – a French-language version of Regards vers Annapurna – while Mr Barnier reciprocated with a traditional, hand-carved walking stick from Savoie, complete with leather wrist strap.
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After holding talks with Theresa May in Downing Street, new Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar said there must be no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and economic borders must be “invisible”.
While he said he regretted Mrs May’s decision to leave the single market and customs union, he said the two had a shared objective to minimise disruption to trade after the UK’s exit.
Former Marks and Spencer chairman Lord Rose, who chaired the Stronger In campaign last year, told BC Radio 4’s Today he was reassured that economic considerations were “top of the pile” but ministers needed to be realistic with the public.
“Let’s communicate with people who voted Out and people who voted Remain what the art of the possible… we all know we can’t have our cake and eat it… negotiations mean you are not always going to get what you want.”
Speaking on the same programme, JD Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin – one of the leading pro-Leave business voices – said negotiators had to be open to possible compromises but also prepared to walk away and to default to World Trade Organisation rules if necessary.
“I don’t think many people feel that staying in the single market and customs union and being subject to EU laws is Brexit. I think Brexit is parliamentary sovereignty and an assertion of democracy. Outside that, I think there is a quite a lot of scope.”
For Labour, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said there was “real confusion” about the government’s mandate after the general election result.
Pressed on whether he supported remaining in the customs union, which other senior Labour figures have appeared to rule out – he told Sky News the focus should be on “outcomes not models” and what he wanted to see was “no increase in customs burdens” following Brexit.
Brexit negotiations: David Davis says ‘promising start’ made}