BRUSSELS – The two top negotiators from Britain and the European Union struck a conciliatory tone on Monday, after they concluded the first round of Brexit negotiations.
Britain, a member of the EU since 1973, is the first country ever to leave the bloc, following a surprise result in a referendum last year.
“This first session was useful to start off on the right foot as the clock is ticking,” EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said after a meeting his British counterpart David Davis.
“A fair deal is possible and far better than no deal,” Barnier said.
For his part Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator David Davis said he “was encouraged by the productive approach” evident in the first formal talks.
Regarding one of the key sticking points of any future agreement, British Prime Minister Theresa May is set to make a proposal on the issue of EU citizens’ rights in Britain at an EU summit this week, he said.
Resolving the issue of citizens rights, and agreeing on Britain’s final financial contribution to the EU as well as maintaining an open border between Britain and Ireland, are the top priorities for the EU.
Barnier and Davis said the Irish issue had taken up most of the time at Monday’s meeting.
Davis indicated that while there was agreement to maintain “as near as possible” an invisible border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, there were still technical issues that needed to be resolved.
The negotiations took place as British Prime Minister Theresa May is grappling with the fallout from a snap election that cost her party its parliamentary majority.
Despite the downgrade to a minority government and questions about how long May and her cabinet are likely to remain in power, Davis confirmed Britain’s intent to leave the single market.
Davis said leaving the single market as well as the customs union with the EU were necessary to enable Britain to pursue free trade arrangements with countries outside the bloc.
In the so-called terms of reference published after the meeting, both sides comitted themselves to meeting on a monthly basis.
The next rounds are scheduled for July 17, August 28, September 18 and October 9. -dpa