Tuesday 16 January 2018

Brexit talks officially begin today - here's all you need to know

Almost a year to the day since Britons voted to leave the EU

Britain's Secretary of State for Brexit David Davis walks out of the Cabinet office, in Westminster, central London, Britain, June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall
Britain's Secretary of State for Brexit David Davis walks out of the Cabinet office, in Westminster, central London, Britain, June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Brexit Secretary David Davis starts negotiations in Brussels today that will set the terms on which Britain leaves the European Union and determine its relationship with the continent for generations to come.

What happens today?

Almost a year to the day since Britons shocked themselves and their neighbours by voting on June 23 to cut loose from their main trading partner, and nearly three months since Prime Minister Theresa May locked them into a two-year countdown to Brexit in March 2019, almost nothing about the future is clear. Negotiators Davis and Barnier meet at 11 a.m (9am GMT) to set the terms of Brexit.

Davis, who unlike May has long campaigned to leave the EU, will meet chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier, a former French minister, at the European Commission's Berlaymont headquarters. They are due to give a joint news conference after talks among their teams lasting seven hours.

Will anything be decided today?

Officials on both sides play down expectations for what can be achieved in one day. EU diplomats hope this first meeting, and a Brussels summit on Thursday and Friday where May will encounter - but not negotiate with - fellow EU leaders, can improve the atmosphere after some spiky exchanges.

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

"These talks will be difficult at points, but we will be approaching them in a constructive way."

Barnier, a keen mountaineer, spent the weekend in his native Alps "to draw the strength and energy needed" ahead of Brexit talks.

What are the main concerns/priorities today?

With discontent in europhile Scotland and troubled Northern Ireland, which faces a new EU border across the divided island, Brexit poses new threats to the integrity of the United Kingdom.

It will test the ingenuity of thousands of public servants racing against the clock to untangle 44 years of EU membership before Britain is out, 649 days from now, on March 30, 2019. For the officials sitting down on Monday, at least on the EU side, a major worry is Britain crashing out into a limbo, with no deal.

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

With a further million British expatriates in the EU, May too wants a deal on citizens' rights, though the two sides are some way apart. Agreeing to pay a "Brexit bill" may be more inflammatory.

What are Brussels thinking right now?

Brussels is also resisting British demands for immediate talks on a future free trade arrangement. The EU insists that should wait until an outline agreement on divorce terms, ideally by the end of this year. In any case, EU officials say, London no longer seems sure of what trade arrangements it will ask for.

But Union leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, are also determined not to make concessions to Britain that might encourage others to follow.

What is Britain's Foreign Minister thinking?

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said Brexit talks set to begin on Monday should aim to prepare the ground for a "deep and special partnership" that London wants with the European Union.

"The most important thing I think now is for us to look to the horizon ... think about the future, and think about the new partnership, the deep and special partnership that we want to build with our friends," Johnson told reporters ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

Brexit Secretary David Davis starts negotiations in Brussels later on Monday that will set the terms on which Britain leaves the EU and determine its relationship with the continent for generations to come.

How are the markets?

Sterling held steady on Monday ahead of the start of Brexit negotiations, with investors also awaiting comments from a top Federal Reserve official to see whether the U.S. dollar's recent rise can be sustained.

The British pound was little changed at $1.2777. It hardly budged on news that a van ploughed into worshippers leaving a London mosque on Monday, killing at least one person and injuring several.

Sterling has been through a turbulent month, sinking to a near two-month low of $1.2636 on June 9 on the British election shock, but rallying last week as the Bank of England came close to hiking rates after a split vote in its monetary policy committee.

It is expected to remain vulnerable to bouts of volatility in coming months as negotiations proceed on Britain's divorce from European Union.

Investors are focusing on the UK government's stance in the talks, after the ruling Conservative party's setback in this month's election deepened uncertainty over both Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit plans and her political future.

... and the latest from Ireland?

Up to €400m in State and EU supports will be needed annually to allow Irish businesses to mitigate the fallout from a hard Brexit, the country's biggest business body has argued.

Ibec said funds must be provided to support firms in sectors exposed to the UK to innovate, diversify into new markets, train staff and invest for a future with the United Kingdom outside of the European Union.

In a policy document published today to mark the first day of formal Brexit negotiations, the business group warned that a temporary form of EU State aid needs to be provided to support companies, while an EU fund designed to help people who have lost their jobs due to globalisation needs to be reformed to help businesses deal with the economic fallout from Brexit.

Ibec director general Danny McCoy said the closest possible relationship between the UK and EU is in everyone's interest.

"If the UK crashes out of Europe, Ireland will need all the policy levers available to respond. State aid will be needed to support companies through any period of adjustment, and tax and labour market policy will need to ensure Ireland remains internationally competitive," Mr McCoy said.

"A post-Brexit EU must take full advantage of Europe's collective strength and influence, but not limit the capacity of member states to respond quickly to external shocks."

Reuters

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