Brexit ‘divorce talks’ to focus on three key areas

David Davis may make concessions in accepting timeframe

A worker arranges flags at the EU headquarters in Brussels. Photograph: Francois Lenoir/Reuters

A worker arranges flags at the EU headquarters in Brussels. Photograph: Francois Lenoir/Reuters

 

In what are expected to be largely procedural talks about talks and their scheduling, Brexit negotiations are finally taking place in Brussels on Monday.

A delegation led by an upbeat and optimistic UK Brexit Secretary, David Davis, is meeting the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his team in the European Commission’s Berlaymont headquarters for a day-long session of discussions.

The first part of the negotiations on an exit agreement, widely described as the “divorce talks”, are due to focus on three elements – the continuing rights of citizens in each other’s jurisdictions after Brexit, the financial liabilities of the UK, and Ireland’s border.

The EU insists that only when “substantial progress” is made on all three will it be possible to engage in the other main strand of talks – on trade. Sources close to Mr Davis said over the weekend he is willing to make “major” concessions in accepting that timeframe on Monday.

This has been widely acknowledged informally in Brussels for some time, although the British have spoken publicly of their hope that the talks would be simultaneous, in parallel.

British media reported a willingness by the UK to make what the Sunday Times called a bold offer on citizens rights – in effect to reciprocate the EU’s suggestion of a like-for-like deal preserving current rights to travel and reside for both sets of citizens. But the offer would be withheld until Thursday when British prime minister Theresa May would herself present it to the scheduled European summit.

Mr Davis was also reported to be acknowledging the widely accepted reality that a complete deal in relation to Ireland cannot be finalised until trade talks begin. This is because the issue of cross-border trade will inevitably be tied to a settlement on the broader issue. Commission sources accept as much, but believe that issues relating to the free movement of people and the Common Travel Area, and to the preservation of EU-related elements of the Belfast Agreement, may be advanced.

Mr Davis is expected to say when he arrives here that despite a “long road” ahead for the talks the destination is clear, “a deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU”. He will say that the UK will remains a committed partner to allies in Europe, and that both sides will emerge from the talks strong and prosperous.

Meanwhile a new UK poll has indicated that 53 per cent of people would back a vote on whether to accept the terms of the final Brexit deal, with 47 per cent opposed.