German minister sees hope of 'soft' Brexit, with conditions

German minister sees hope of 'soft' Brexit, with conditions

Anxious by immigration and loss of sovereignty, Britain previous year voted to end its decades-old membership of the 28-country bloc - the first state ever to do so - in a shock referendum result. Brexit minister David Davis will travel to Brussels to meet Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, to kick off hugely complex withdrawal negotiations that are expected to conclude within two years. While European leaders try to gauge what to expect from Britain, May is so weakened that her own finance minister and the partners on whom she will rely for her majority, Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, are giving her public guidance. The government is due to present its legislative program at the opening of parliament on June 21, which will be followed by a key confidence vote several days later.

One EU diplomat told the Politico website: "It is indeed our understanding that the agenda of the first negotiation round consists of issues related to the first phase of negotiations, which means citizens, money, Northern Ireland and some other exit-related questions".

May's election debacle has revived feuding over Europe among Conservatives that her predecessor David Cameron hoped to end by calling the referendum and leaves European Union leaders unclear on her plan for a "global Britain" which majority regard as pure folly.

Mr Davis added: "There has been a huge amount of work across Whitehall to prepare us for these talks and make sure we get the best possible deal". But the other 27 members of the European Union combined have about five times the economic might of Britain.

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German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told Sunday's Welt am Sonntag newspaper that "maybe there is now a chance to achieve a so-called "soft Brexit.'" But he said staying in the single market would require Britain to accept European Union workers" freedom of movement.

"We believe that the withdrawal process can not be concluded without the future relationship also being taken into account,"the spokesman said". The negotiations have been called the most complex in Britain's history as it unravels 44 years of membership and its threat to walk out with no deal in place has anxious European capitals. The first issue at the Brussels talks will be the status of millions of European Union citizens living in the United Kingdom and British residents of the other 27 countries, including their right to stay, to work, and to access medical care.

Chancellor Philip Hammond said the Government's priority in the negotiations should be to protect jobs, economic growth and prosperity. Only 35% of respondents agreed with the Prime Minister's strategy.

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