Britain, EU launch historic Brexit talks in Brussels

The European Union and Britain on Monday start formal talks to separate after 44 years of UK membership

David Davis (L) and Michel Barnier
David Davis (L) and Michel Barnier

Britain starts formal talks to leave the EU on Monday, seeking a deal "like no other in history" despite entering difficult negotiations with a badly weakened government.

A year after Britain's seismic referendum, Brexit minister David Davis and the European Union's French chief negotiator Michel Barnier will meet at the European Commission in Brussels at 11:00am to set the terms on which Britain leaves the bloc and determine its future relationship. They are due to give a joint news conference after talks among their teams lasting seven hours.

"While there is a long road ahead, our destination is clear - a deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU. A deal like no other in history," Brexit Secretary David Davissaid in a statement as he headed into the talks.

"I look forward to beginning work on that new future."

Almost a year to the day since Britons voted on the 23 June referendum to leave its main trading partner, and nearly three months since Prime Minister Theresa May set off a two-year countdown to Brexit in March 2019, May's entire approach has been called into question after a disastrous election performance on 8 June.

May's election debacle has revived feuding over Europe among Conservatives that her predecessor David Cameron hoped to end by calling the referendum, and leaves EU leaders unclear on her plan for a "global Britain" which most of them regard as pure folly.

While "Brexiteers" have strongly backed May's proposed clean break with the single market and customs union, finance minister Philip Hammond and others have this month echoed calls by businesses for less of a "hard Brexit" and retaining closer customs ties.

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.

Before moving onto the future EU-UK relationship and a possible trade deal, the talks will first focus on three key divorce issues, including Britain's exit bill, estimated by Brussels at around €100 billion, the rights of three million EU nationals living in Britain and one million Britons on the continent, and the status of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

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