Brexit talks to focus first on orderly exit

He said he hoped that during their single day of talks, he and Mr Davis would be able to identify priorities and a timetable for the ongoing negotiations, so that he can report back to leaders of the other 27 EU states at the European Council summit in Brussels on Thursday.

British and EU Brexit negotiators have agreed how to organise talks on Britain’s divorce at a first meeting in Brussels, where both sides stressed goodwill but also the huge complexity and tight deadline.

Brexit Secretary David Davis has said Britain will seek “a deal that works in the best interests of all citizens” in Brexit talks getting under way in Brussels.

“In the first step, we will deal with the most pressing issues, we must lift the uncertainty caused by Brexit; we want to make sure that the withdrawal of United Kingdom happens in an orderly manner”.

When asked whether agreeing to this schedule was a sign of the weakness of Britain’s negotiating position, Davis said: “It is not how it starts but how it ends”.

European Union leaders warned Britain could end up with a “brutal Brexit” because of Theresa May’s weak government. For one thing, renewed debate in her cabinet on how far to go with her clean break from the single market and customs union has made it hard to present a coherent set of demands in Brussels.

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.

Michel Barnier, the commission’s chief negotiator, warned Britain that he was “not in a frame of mind to make concessions” and that the consequences of Brexit would be “substantial”.

Ms 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.

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

The talks will be in English and French, they said in a joint statement.

While denying they want to punish their neighbour, European Union officials have warned Britain against trying to “cherry-pick” the benefits of membership and said it would be left worse off outside the bloc.

“The best way we can spend this week is to rebuild trust”, rather than tackle the big hard issues right at the start, a European source said.

In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasised the unity of the remaining 27 European Union countries, which have been alarmed in recent weeks by Prime Minister Theresa May’s threats to walk out of the talks.

“We want both sides to emerge strong and prosperous, capable of projecting our shared European values, leading in the world, and demonstrating our resolve to protect the security of our citizens. But the 27 of us will formulate our interests very clearly and hopefully, together”, Ms Merkel said.

But he said that Monday morning’s terror attack in London and the devastating fires in Portugal reminded him that “there is more that unites us than divides us”.

Barnier has warned that the negotiations must be wrapped up by October 2018 to allow time for all parties to ratify a final accord by March 2019.