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Brexit Talks Begin on Time, Aiming for ‘Deal Like No Other in History’

Brexit talks finally started Monday, a year after the referendum, 12 weeks after Article 50 was triggered, and just days after the Tories lost their majority in the House of Commons.

At 11 am Monday, Brexit secretary David Davis and the European Union’s (EU) chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier met for the first time at the European Commission’s headquarters in Brussels.

Mr. Davis shared a platform with former UKIP leader Nigel Farage in the referendum campaign and has repeatedly said he is committed to a so-called “hard-Brexit” outside of the Single Market. On Monday, he called for “a deal like no other in history”.

His adversary, Mr. Barnier, has said Brexit will not be “quick and painless”, demanded the UK pays a 100 billion euro “divorce bill”, and suggested EU courts retain their supremacy over British law after Brexit.

However, heading into the talks Monday morning, the two men struck a conciliatory tone, promising to build a strong new “partnership” as “close allies” and “friends”.

First on the table, Mr. Barnier said, was “identifying priorities” such as the border in Ireland and setting out a timetable for the talks. The question of rights for European citizens living in Britain and Britons living in Europe are also thought to be high on the agenda.

The negotiations will last until March 2019 and are expected to move in a series of phases and cycles. Phase one is likely to cover the terms of Britain’s withdrawal, which will take place in four or five cycles of talks over the summer until October, or November at the latest.

Mr. Davis is expected to say: “We want both sides to emerge strong and prosperous, capable of projecting our shared European values, leading in the world, and demonstrating our resolve to protect the security of our citizens.”

Adding: “And while there is a long road ahead, our destination is clear – a deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU. A deal like no other in history.”

The Brexit conference room Monday. British Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis and his delegation (left) sit opposite Barnier and his colleagues this morning / Getty Images

UKIP were more sceptical, with Gerard Batten MEP, the party’s Brexit spokesman, saying in a statement: “All talk of negotiating a good deal is codswallop. A good deal for the EU would be a bad deal for the UK. Our Government should seize the initiative and tell the EU how Britain is going to leave, not ask it how it might be done.”

William Dartmouth MEP, the UKIP Trade spokesman, said: “The European Union, and the Quislings on the British side, have every incentive to delay these ‘negotiations’ as much and as long as possible, in the hope of seeing the Referendum decision set-aside, or arriving at a ‘deal’ whereby the UK leaves in the EU in name but not in substance.”

Since Theresa May failed to win a majority in parliament, the leader of the Scottish Tories, the Liberal Democrats, some in Labour, and many EU leaders have been calling for a “soft-Brexit” or even for the UK to remain inside the EU.

Labour’s shadow secretary of state for Brexit, Keir Starmer, Sunday night renewed his party’s demands, saying the government should “reset its Brexit strategy” and rule out walking away without a trade deal if the offer is poor.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson remained upbeat Monday and thinks the Brexit negotiations will yield “a happy resolution that can be done with profit and honour for both sides”.

Johnson called on people to look at the more distant future. At a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg, he said: “The most important thing for us is to look to the horizon, raise our eyes to the horizon. In the long run, this will be good for the UK and good for the rest of Europe.”

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