Hours after arriving in Brussels to kick off the first day of the talks on Monday, UK Brexit Secretary David Davis agreed to settle the divorce terms before getting to the details about future relations with the EU.
This is a stark retreat from Davis’ core demands before the talks, where he had called for parallel talks on both aspects of the process.
The British minister raised the issue once again yesterday only to be shut down by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, who said the European Council would only proceed to future ties when “sufficient progress has been made” in other areas.
The EU has demanded an early agreement on three issues: the rights of EU nationals living in the UK; the UK’s “exit” payment to the EU; and the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Davis, who had warned the EU’s timetable would risk an early collapse of the talks, said after meeting Barnier that backtracking on London’s preferences was not a sign of “weakness.”
“It’s not when it starts, it’s how it finishes that matters,” he argued, noting that the timetable was “completely consistent” with what the government of Prime Minister Theresa May had aimed for.
‘EU not in to make concessions’
Asked if he had made any concessions to the UK in exchange, Barnier said the talks were not about “punishment” or “revenge” and the two sides had to simply accept the “responsibility and the consequences” that came with their decisions.
“I am not in a frame of mind to make concessions, or ask for concessions,” he 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,” he added, referring to the last June EU referendum in the England, where 52 percent voted in favor of Brexit.
First day agreements
The two sides agreed to initially hold a week of negotiations every month until a new structure is defined.
They also agreed to set up working groups of “senior experts” to work on the three key issues.
Davis said there was already “much common ground” on citizens’ rights. Some 3.5 million EU nationals live in the UK compared to 1.2 million Britons spread around the continent.
The UK has also dismissed an ultimatum by the EU to pay a “divorce bill” of around £60 billion before sitting at the negotiating table.
May expects the process to be completed by March 2019 but the EU has warned that the two sides should reach a deal before October 2018.