- Talks for Brexit, Britain’s exit from the EU, have finally begun – a year after the Brits voted for leaving the Union.
- UK seems to have acquiesced to the EU agenda for the negotiations without putting up a fight.
- As a result, the Brexit talks will address first citizens’ rights, Britain’s exit bill, and separation issues such as the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
- Contrary to the UK demands, the issues of trade and the future relationship between the UK and the EU are to be discussed later.
- EU and UK negotiators have one week of talks every month.
- Top negotiators Barnier and Davis have declared the talks have gotten off to a ‘promising start’.
The UK appears to have bowed down, and accepted the agenda of the European Union as the long-anticipated talks for Brexit, i.e. Britain’s exit from the EU, have finally begun.
The first day of the Brexit negotiations brought the news that they are going to be focused first on citizens’ rights, the financial settlement, and the question of borders, especially the border between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK.
This agenda seems to have been set by the EU since the British government had wanted to also focus on trade and the future relationship between the two by running parallel negotiations on them alongside the other issues.
In their June 2016 referendum, the majority of the British citizens voted in favor of Brexit (51.9% to 48.1%).
Some 9 months later, on March 29, 2017, British Prime Minister Theresa May formally triggered Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, which deals with exit from the European Union, initiating a two-year process of negotiations with Brussels.
The guidelines for the Brexit talks adopted by the EU list three main priorities: securing the rights of EU nationals in the UK; collecting Britain’s financial dues; and avoiding a hard border between the Republic of Ireland, which is an EU member state, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, should be avoided.
In April and May, British Prime Minister May and the EU leaders engaged in a war of words over each other’s demands long before the start of the negotiations for Brexit.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel in particular delivered a tough talk speech on Brexit telling the UK to have no illusions of privileged treatment during and after the Brexit talks.
Uncertainty has dragged on following Britain’s snap elections on June 8, in which the ruling Conservative Party of Prime Minister May not only failed to boost its parliamentary majority but actually lost it, and has had to enter talks for a coalition government with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland.
‘Row of the Summer’
European Union and British negotiators have agreed on priorities and a timeline for Britain’s exit from the Union as the long-awaited Brexit talks finally began on Monday, June 19, 2017.
Citizens’ rights, Britain’s exit bill, and separation issues such as the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland will be addressed first, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier of France, and the UK’s Brexit Secretary David Davis announced at a joint news conference in Brussels.
The initial agenda for the Brexit talks appears to reflect the EU’s desires as the UK had wanted talks on trade and its future relationship with the EU.
Davis himself had predicted earlier that the settling of the Brexit negotiation agenda would be the “row of the summer” but his forecast failed to materialize as the UK somewhat surprisingly seems to have accepted the EU’s demands.
“This first session was useful to start off on the right foot. And it was useful for me to sit down with my counterpart, David Davis. I look forward to working closely with you during this negotiation,” EU negotiator Barnier said, as quoted by the press service of the European Commission, the EU’s executive.
“In a first step, we will deal with the most pressing issues. We must lift the uncertainty caused by Brexit. We want to make sure that the withdrawal of the UK happens in an orderly manner,“ Barnier elaborated.
“Then, in a second step, we will scope our future relationship,” he added
The EU and UK negotiators agreed to have one week of negotiations every month, while using the time in between to work on proposals and exchange them.
“In the first phase, the negotiation rounds will be broken down into three groups: citizens’ rights, the single financial settlement, and other separation issues,” Barnier said.
“We agreed that our closest collaborators will start a dialogue on Ireland. The protection of the Good Friday agreement and the maintenance of the Common Travel Area are the most urgent issues to discuss,” the EU negotiator explained.
In his words, after talks are held on citizens’ rights, the single financial settlement, and the question of the borders (in particular in Ireland), the European Council, which consists of the leaders of all EU member states, is to decide on whether sufficient progress has been achieved. If its assessment is positive, the talks will then move on to “scoping the future relationship on trade and other matters.”
UK Brexit Secretary David Davis said that the Brexit talks had gotten off to a “promising start” even though it has become obvious that Britain conceded to the EU’s preferred order.
Discussions aimed at preserving the Good Friday Agreement and common travel area in Ireland will begin, although Davis suggested these issues may not be settled until the end of the process, when the UK’s trade relationship with the EU is settled, the BBC reported.
Davies 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 the UK 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”.
“I am not in a frame of mind to make concessions, or ask for concessions. It’s not about punishment, it is not about revenge,“ Barnier said.
“Basically, we are implementing the decision taken by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, and unravel 43 years of patiently-built relations,“ added the EU Chief Negotiator.
“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 United Kingdom to find an agreement in that frame of mind,” he concluded.