UK promise to ‘safeguard EU workers’ as Brexit negotiations begin

Brexit negotiations are underway.
Brexit negotiations are underway.
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THERESA MAY will tell European leaders her plan to offer European Union citizens living in the UK safeguards over their rights  later this week after Brussels insisted the issue must be settled before talks on future trade relations can get under way.

The Prime Minister will brief European counterparts at a summit meeting before the Government sets out detailed plans on Monday.

Mrs May has repeatedly refused to guarantee EU citizens’ rights until agreement is reached with Brussels over the future of British citizens living in Europe.

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Speaking at the end of the first day of talks in Brussels with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, Brexit Secretary David Davis said there was “much common ground” on the issue.

He said: “Ever since the referendum, I have been clear that my first priority is to provide certainty to European Union citizens living in the United Kingdom, and to UK citizens resident in the European Union – and I know Michel shares that aspiration too.

“So now that the negotiations have started, we are determined to get on with the job and deliver that certainty as soon as possible.”

The UK had wanted the future of trade relations to be considered alongside other issues but the opening day of talks concluded with agreement that progress will be made on citizens’ rights, the so-called ‘divorce bill’ and border relations between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland first.

The result of the General Election and Mrs May’s loss of authority have led to suggestions that figures such as Chancellor Philip Hammond want the Government’s approach to Brexit to focus more on the economy and jobs rather than border controls and leaving the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

But Mr Davis, the Howden and Haltemprice MP, insisted the Government’s approach would not alter.

He said: “The position hasn’t changed, we have the Lancaster House speech, the two white papers, and the Article 50 letter, all backed up by a manifesto too.

“So it’s the same as it was before.”

Mr Davis said the talks had resulted in an “ambitious but eminently achievable timetable”.

“It was clear from the opening that both of us want to achieve the best possible outcome and the strongest possible partnership – one that works for the UK and the EU.

“We agreed that we stand a much greater chance of success if our teams work together and that has been demonstrated today,” he said.

Mr Davis added: “Today marks the start of a journey, for the United Kingdom and for the European Union.

“There is a long way to go, but we are off to a promising start. We have taken the first, critical steps together.

“Now, we have a shared responsibility to deliver quick and substantive progress.”

M. Barnier also sought to emphasise the constructive nature of the discussions.

But more than two months after Mrs May started the Brexit process by triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and almost a year after the EU referendum result, M. Barnier warned “the clock is ticking” on the negotiations.

In an apparent reference to UK Ministers’ repeated insistence that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’, M. Barnier said: “For both the EU and the UK a fair deal is possible and far better than no deal.

“It is why we will work all the time with the UK and never against the UK.

“There will be no hostility on my side, I will display a constructive attitude firmly based on the interests and support of the 27.”

Opponents of Brexit seized on the EU’s success in imposing its timetable for the talks as evidence of the UK’s weak negotiating position.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “David Davis said the row of the summer would be over the sequencing of Brexit talks, and one day in he has capitulated.

“The man is a joker. Despite the government’s posturing, the EU was clear today it has not made a single concession to David Davis. He has been utterly humiliated.

“After Philip Hammond tried to rugby tackle his Conservative colleagues before they leap off the cliff edge on trade, David Davis has shrugged him off and dived into the abyss.”

Terms of reference agreed by both sides envisage four rounds of talks on the first phase of discussions, in the weeks starting July 17, August 28, September 18 and October 9, implying trade talks are unlikely to open until after the European Council summit in October.

Gifts tell their own story

THERE WAS no escaping the symbolism of the gifts exchanged by Brexit Secretary David Davis and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier at the start of the talks.

Michel Barnier, an enthusiastic walker, presented Mr Davis with a hiking stick while the Brexit Secretary gave his counterpart a book on trekking.

Pictures of the opening session of the talk also sparked criticism over the lack of diversity in the negotiating teams. The UK’s representatives included just one woman in the nine-strong group, Catherine Webb, director of market access in the Department for Exiting the European Union.

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