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Britain, EU kick off Brexit negotiations

Britain, EU kick off Brexit negotiations

The EU's chief negotiator, France's Michel Barnier, welcomed his counterpart David Davis with a handshake and smiles for the press in the European Commission's landmark headquarters in central Brussels flanked by the EU and British flags.

According to the timetable set by the negotiating teams, further talks would be held in the weeks starting on 17 July, 28 August, 18 September and 9 October.

In carefully choreographed talks that even saw the two men exchange mountaineering gifts, they agreed to discuss divorce issues before negotiations on a future trade deal can start. He noted the European Union wants to discuss divorce terms before moving on to the shape of its future relations with Britain.

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.

Other official at the table included Glynn Williams - director general at the Home Office, Mark Bowman - director general, global finance at HM Treasury, Simon Case - director general, UK-EU partnership team, Alex Ellis - director general at the Department for Exiting the European Union, Jane Walker - aide to David Davis and Christian Jones - press secretary to David Davis.

"Northern Ireland is very complex and sensitive and we take it extremely seriously", Davis said.

Chancellor Philip Hammond has dismissed speculation that he will push for a soft Brexit by arguing for Britain to remain in the customs union and single market.

Britain, the EU's biggest financial market is leaving the bloc in 2019, raising the prospect of an abrupt cut in cross-border links without a new trade deal.

After the initial shock of last year's Brexit vote, the bloc at 27 appears to have steadied in recent months and got a real boost with the election of new French President Emmanuel Macron in May.

"Now, the hard work begins", Davis said, adding he wanted a deal that worked for both sides.

"The new Northern Irish executive needs to be set up in a few days' time, at the same time we have a new government and a new Taoiseach in Dublin and of course there are the ongoing political discussion in London which we are also following closely".

A letter signed by the CBI, British Chambers of Commerce, manufacturing group the EEF, the Federation of Small Businesses and Institute of Directors also calls for an early deal to secure the rights of European Union citizens living and working in Britain to stay after Brexit. European Union officials have long insisted on covering the topics in sequence.

"To that end we are starting this negotiation in a positive and constructive tone, determined to build a strong and special partnership between ourselves and our European allies and friends for the future", he said.

In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasised the unity of the remaining 27 European Union countries, who have been alarmed in recent weeks by May's threats to walk out of the talks.

"We want to preserve all the aspects and all the obligations under the Good Friday agreement".

"There will be no austerity on my side, I will display a constructive attitude firmly based on interests and support of the (EU) 27, and I will all the time seek to the continued support of the European Parliament", he said.

"Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has taken more time today than anything else".