Saturday 16 December 2017

Brexit talks to focus on UK's 'divorce bill', expats and Northern Ireland border

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond Photo: Philip Toscano/PA Wire
Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond Photo: Philip Toscano/PA Wire

Andrew Woodcock

Brexit talks in Brussels on Monday will focus on the status of expats, the UK's "divorce bill" and the Northern Irish border, rather than on future trade relations with the European Union, it has been confirmed.

The European Commission said the one-day meeting between its chief negotiator Michel Barnier and Brexit Secretary David Davis will take place "as part of the sequenced approach to the talks" set out by the EU, which require progress to be made on withdrawal arrangements before any talks on trade can begin.

There was no immediate response from Mr Davis's Department for Exiting the EU on whether this meant the UK has given up on its hopes for parallel talks to take place simultaneously on withdrawal and trade.

Chancellor Philip Hammond said that the Government's priority in the negotiations should be to protect jobs, economic growth and prosperity.

Mr Hammond's comments are likely to be seen as a further indication that he is pressing for the Government to take a "softer" line on Brexit than the immigration-driven approach previously set out by Theresa May.

Speaking as he arrived for a meeting of EU finance ministers in Luxembourg, Mr Hammond said: "As we go into that negotiation, my clear view - and I believe the view of the majority of people in Britain - is that we should prioritise protecting jobs, protecting economic growth and protecting prosperity as we enter those negotiations and take them forward."

The Chancellor declined to comment on whether he supported Britain's continued membership of the EU single market or customs union.

He had been due to use a high-profile speech in the City of London on Thursday night to send out a message that the Government would protect business from shocks during the Brexit process.

But his planned address, and that of Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, was cancelled because of the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy.

The agenda for the June 19 meeting was agreed by Mr Barnier and Mr Davis on Thursday, following preparatory "talks about talks" this week at civil service level between the European Commission and the United Kingdom.

The Commission statement said: "The opening of negotiations at political level next week will focus on issues related to citizens' rights, the financial settlement, the Northern Irish border and other separation issues, as part of the sequenced approach to the talks.

"Both sides will also discuss the structure of the negotiations and the issues that need to be addressed over the coming months."

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

"As we set out in the Article 50 letter, our view is that withdrawal agreement and terms of the future relationship must be agreed alongside each other," he said.

"We believe that the withdrawal process cannot be concluded without the future relationship also being taken into account," the spokesman said. "The withdrawal and future are intimately linked."

Additional reporting from Reuters

Press Association

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