Britain, EU begin formal Brexit talks

At stake is not just Britain's future but also Europe's post-war political order and its place in the world which could be fatally undermined without an agreement by the March 2019 deadline. "We must first tackle the uncertainties caused by Brexit", centring on citizens living on each other's territory, border arrangements between Ireland and the United Kingdom and the amount that Britain stands to pay to get out of its previous European Union commitments, Barnier said.

The UK has quietly backed down from its earlier insistence on negotiating the terms of its withdrawal from the European Union and a new trade deal simultaneously.

"So while there will undoubtedly be challenging times ahead of us in the negotiations we will do all that we can to ensure we deliver a deal that works in the best interests of all of our citizens".

A terms-of-reference document agreed by the EU's Michel Barnier and Britain's David Davis said further talks would be held in the weeks starting on July 17, Aug 28, Sept 18 and Oct 9.

Speaking in Brussels, Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, made clear where the power lay in the talks when he said Britain had bowed to the EU's demands for two phases.

European stocks rose on Monday, partly on optimism about the talks actually getting underway after months of sniping and uncertainty, analysts said.

The Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz added: "One can not prolong indefinitely the state we're in; Brexit must be dealt with".

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"For me, it is above all about the EU27 proceeding together and listening carefully to Britain's wishes and expectations", Merkel said after meeting Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.

Anxious by immigration and loss of sovereignty, Britons voted previous year to end their country's four-decade membership in the 28-country bloc - the first nation ever to do so.

"For there is more that unites us than divides us".

Even though May triggered the two-year process on March 29, negotiators will have to get a full agreement much faster than March 2019. May, whose future is uncertain after she lost her Conservative majority in an election this month, has insisted that trade talks start immediately and run in parallel.

After the first day of the negotiations, which could shape the UK's economic and political future for a generation, it was agreed that working groups of officials would aim to make progress on the issues of citizens' rights, the UK's financial settlement, the so-called divorce bill, and other issues to do with separation.

It certainly is. Mr Davis has said that while the United Kingdom is pulling out of the single market and the customs union and ending the free movement of labour, he wants an agreement that replicates as far as possible Britain's existing trade arrangements with the EU.

"This is a technically hard issue but it is one which I am certain is soluble, although it will probably take us until the end of the process when we have already decided what our customs and free trade arrangements are".

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Last month, Mr Davis vowed to wage the "row of the summer" to secure immediate talks on a free trade agreement - predicting an early collapse if the European Union refused to give way.

European Union leaders must unanimously agree when they are ready to do so.

"Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has taken more time today than anything else. Business wants an atmosphere of pragmatism, civility and mutual respect to characterise this complex process", he said in a statement on the start of the negotiations.

Hammond signalled that he was in favour of an extended transitional arrangement, to help the United Kingdom avoid the "cliff edge" Brexit which most economists agree would be hugely damaging to the country's economy.

Mr Barnier has expressed his desire to finish talks by October 2018.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.

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