First talks hint of hard Brexit
EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier ruled out concessions would be needed by both sides
23 June, 2017
The Brexit talks were officially launched last Monday in Brussels with the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, pointing out that he was “not in the frame of mind to make concessions or ask for concessions,” news wires reported. British media commented his words as a hint that the negotiations are going on a road to hard Brexit. Barnier also said after the first round of talks that there would be “substantial” consequences from Brexit for both sides.
At the same time UK Brexit Secretary David Davis said talks got off to a “promising start.” But the UK appears to have conceded to the EU's preferred order for the talks. Thus the initial focus will be put on expat 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, while trade negotiations will start on a later stage.
The UK had wanted talks on its future relationship with the EU to be considered from the outset, but Barnier pointed out this would only happen once the European Council decided “sufficient progress has been made” on the other issues. Davis denied suggestions the agreed timetable showed Britain's weakness and insisted it was completely consistent with the government's aim of parallel trade and exit talks. “It's not when it starts, it's how it finishes that matters,” he said.
Asked whether he had made any concessions to Britain in return, Barnier said the UK had decided to leave the EU - not the other way around, and each side had to “assume our responsibility and the consequences of our decisions.” “Basically, we are implementing the decision taken by the UK to leave the EU, and unravel 43 years of patiently-built relations,” he pointed out. “It's not about punishment, it is not about revenge. I will do all I can to put emotion to one side and stick to the facts, the figures, and the legal basis, and work with the UK to find an agreement in that frame of mind.”
At the start of the talks Barnier and Davis exchanged gifts and set out the structure for the initial negotiations. There will be one week of negotiations every month, while meanwhile working groups of senior experts will be set up to focus on the main areas. According to Barnier, a fair deal was possible and “far better than no deal”. He also promised to work with, and not against, the UK. “We must lift the uncertainty caused by Brexit,” he concluded.