'Sombre' Britain prepares for historic Brexit talks

"We want to see a Brexit that works for everybody, not just for Northern Ireland", she said.

Secretary of State for Exiting the EU David Davis described the talks as a mission to deliver on the will of the British people following the referendum of a year ago.

"The fact they are coming and that they agree to talk about the subjects that we set out, shows that the clash is under control", a senior European official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"Won't go into substance in five or six hours", one European Union official said.

While EU officials assume that Britain still wants to leave the EU completely, in line with the plan Mrs May's outlined in January, there are other options being planned. But the timing could hardly be more problematic for a change in May's original plan, only days before talks are to begin with the European Union and amid signs of frustration in Brussels at the political turmoil in London.

"It is vital that the deal we strike allows both the UK and the European Union to thrive, as part of the new deep and special partnership we want with our closest allies and friends", the UK Brexit secretary said Sunday in the light of the upcoming talks, as quoted in the UK government's statement. However, there must be unanimous agreement by the EU's 27 other members for that to happen, and that is unlikely before October.

Without a parliamentary majority to support her controversial Brexit strategy, May's three main aims of leaving the single market, creating a new trade deal to replace customs union membership and withdrawing from the European Court of Justice are in danger.

Brussels has previously warned the UK Government it will only enter talks on a potential future trade deal with Britain once "significant progress" is made on divorce matters.

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The Prime Minister's uncompromising approach to the negotiations might not be the one her Government now follows.

Mr Davis was also reported to be acknowledging the widely accepted reality that a complete Ireland deal can not be finalised until trade talks are engaged because the issue of cross-border trade will inevitably be tied to a settlement on the broader issue. Not only did May fail to extend her Conservative Party's slim majority as expected, she also ruinously squandered it, even though she had enjoyed a lead of more than 20 points over the opposition Labour Party in the opinion polls by the time she announced the vote.

May has clung on to power since the election but has so far failed to strike an agreement with Northern Ireland's ultra-conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) that would allow her to govern.

Britain's Brexit ministry said on Friday that no deal could be struck on exiting unless the future relationship with the bloc was taken into account.

So far, he has been successful in that job, making clear the European single market's "four freedoms", including free movement, are indivisible and forcing Mrs May to confirm her intention to pull the United Kingdom out to get control of immigration.

For that reason, Brussels wants as a priority to guarantee rights for 3 million European Union citizens in Britain and be paid tens of billions of euros it says London will owe on its departure.

The Brexit talks start on Monday.

The third key issue is the future of the peace process in the British province of Northern Ireland, and the status of the border with the Republic of Ireland.

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