LONDON: Brexit Secretary David Davis starts negotiations in Brussels on Monday that will set the terms on which Britain leaves the European Union and determine its relationship with the continent for generations to come.
Almost a year to the day since Britons shocked themselves and their neighbours by voting on June 23 to cut loose from their main trading partner, and nearly three months since Prime Minister Theresa May locked them into a two-year countdown to Brexit in March 2019, almost nothing about the future is clear.
Even May’s own immediate political survival is in doubt, 10 days after she lost her majority in an election.
Davis, who unlike May has long campaigned to leave the EU, will meet chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier, a former French minister, at the European Commission’s Berlaymont headquarters at 11 a.m. (0900 GMT). They are due to give a joint news conference after talks among their teams lasting seven hours.
Officials on both sides play down expectations for what can be achieved in one day. EU diplomats hope this first meeting, and a Brussels summit on Thursday and Friday where May will encounter – but not negotiate with – fellow EU leaders, can improve the atmosphere after some spiky exchanges.
“Now, the hard work begins,” Davis said, adding he wanted a deal that worked for both sides.
“These talks will be difficult at points, but we will be approaching them in a constructive way.”
Barnier, a keen mountaineer, spent the weekend in his native Alps “to draw the strength and energy needed for long walks”.
Davis’s agreement to Monday’s agenda led some EU officials to believe that May’s government may at last coming around to Brussels’ view of how negotiations should be run.
Sounding conciliatory, Britain’s Boris Johnson said as he arrived at a meeting with fellow EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg that he looked forward to “a happy revolution” in relations that would be good for Britain and the rest of Europe.
“The most important thing I think now is for us to … think about the new partnership, the deep and special partnership that we want to build with our friends,” said Johnson, who campaigned in last year’s referendum to leave the EU.