UK caves in to EU demand to settle Brexit bill before trade talks

UK makes key concession on timing of Brexit negotiations as talks formally kick off in Brussels 

David Davis (left) and Michel Barnier address a press conference at the end of the first day of Brexit talks
David Davis (left) and Michel Barnier address a press conference at the end of the first day of Brexit talks

The UK has caved in to key European demands for a phased approach to Brexit negotiations, agreeing to settle the cost of its divorce settlement before negotiating a future trade bill.    

The UK’s Brexit secretary David Davis was forced drop his central demand for the two stands of the negotiations to take place in parallel, within hours of arriving in Brussels for the first day of formal talks.

A month ago, Davis had threatened to turn the issue into the “row of the summer” in a bid to avoid being held to random over the divorce settlements. However, a politically weakened UK team appeared eager to show signs of progress today even if it meant accepting priorities set by their EU counterparts.

“It’s not how it starts, it’s how it finishes that matters,” Davis said. “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier made it clear that the UK was in no position to dictate the timeframes of the negotiations.

“The UK has asked to leave the EU, not the other way around, so we each have to assume the consequences of our decisions and the consequences are substantial,” he said, when asked if the EU was making any concessions of its owns. “Please do not underestimate those consequences.

“We need to remain calm. We are talking about orderly withdrawal first, and that makes sense. It’s not something we are asking for in order to get concessions, it’s just a direct consequence of the UK decision.”
He added: “I am not in a frame of mind to make concessions ot ask for concessions. We are looking to unravel 43 years of patiently built relations.”

The exchange came as UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced she would be making a personal trip to Brussels on Thursday to unveil the terms of a new British “generous” offer to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK.

However, hopes for swift progress on the issue of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland were dashed when Barnier and Davis announced it would no longer be in the first wave of their working groups, but rather subject to a separate, slower dialogue.

“This is a technically difficult issue,” Davis said. “I am certain it is solvable but it will probably take us until the end of the process when we decide what our customs and free trade priorities are.”

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