Brexit risks to UK economy in focus as Hammond, Carney speak

Brexit risks to UK economy in focus as Hammond, Carney speak

BRUSSELS — Talks on Britain leaving the European Union began Monday with both sides saying they will focus first on an orderly withdrawal: a deal for citizens living in each other's territory, border arrangements between Ireland and the United Kingdom and the amount that Britain will pay to get out of previous EU commitments.

Those issues are Britain's exit bill, estimated by Brussels at around 100 billion euros (USD 112 billion), the rights of three million European Union nationals living in Britain and one million Britons on the continent, and the status of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Both men said they had spent a great deal of time discussing the question of Northern Ireland where all parties seek to uphold the free border.

A year after Britons shocked the continent by voting on June 23 to cut loose from their main export market, new debate within Prime Minister Theresa May's cabinet on precisely what kind of trading relationship to pursue has perplexed European Union leaders, who warn time is tight to agree terms before Britain leaves in 2019.

The smiles belied the fact that at stake is not just Britain's future but also Europe's postwar political order and its place in the world, which could be fatally undermined without an agreement by the March 2019 deadline.

May officially triggered the two-year Brexit process in March when she was riding high in opinion polls, and called for fresh elections shortly afterwards to shore up her mandate for a tough Brexit stance.

"We must first tackle the uncertainties caused by Brexit", said Barnier, a former French minister, as he greeted Davis at the European Commission's Berlaymont Building headquarters.

Mr Davis denied suggestions the agreed timetable showed Britain's "weakness" and insisted it is "completely consistent" with the Government's aim of parallel trade and exit talks.

Asked if he had given any ground to Britain, Mr Barnier said: "I am not in a frame of mind to make concessions, or ask for concessions".

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Theresa May said political unity was integral for Britain to exit from the EU.

The Brexit Secretary said: "The position hasn't changed".

"Basically, we are implementing the decision taken by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, and unravel 43 years of patiently-built relations".

"We need back control of our borders, we will leave the single market and the customs union." he said. European Union officials have long insisted on covering the topics in sequence.

Mr Davis, taking up the historical theme, quoted British wartime leader Winston Churchill.

"The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity, the optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty".

"In the first step, we will deal with the most pressing issues".

Barnier however said that "a fair deal is possible and is far better than no deal - that is what I said to David today".

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 of October 18/19.

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