EU, Britain agree on timetable for Brexit talks
BRUSSELS: Britain accepted the European Union's (EU) timetable for Brexit talks on Monday, in an apparent climbdown on the first day of formal negotiations in Brussels.
The EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier said talks with Brexit Secretary David Davis, which are starting a year after Britain's vote to leave, had started "on the right foot".
In choreographed talks that saw the two men exchange mountaineering gifts, they agreed to discuss divorce issues before negotiations on a future trade deal can start.
These include the issues of Britain's estimated €100 billion (S$175 billion) exit bill, the rights of EU citizens living in Britain, and the fate of the border in Northern Ireland.
But the agreement appeared at odds with British Prime Minister Theresa May's earlier insistence that the divorce and the future relationship should be discussed in parallel.
Frenchman Barnier struck a firm tone as he said the timetable for Britain's divorce after four troubled decades of membership made sense.
"If you ask me, 'Are we going to make concessions?' I must tell you that it is the UK leaving the EU, the single market, the customs union and not the other way around," the former European commissioner and French foreign minister told a joint press conference with Mr Davis, AFP reported.
Meanwhile, the UK's Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond pressed for a smooth Brexit to avoid a damaging "cliff edge" for businesses, Reuters reported.
"We will almost certainly need an implementation period, outside the (EU's) customs union itself, but with current customs border arrangements remaining in place, until new long-term arrangements are up and running," he said, in a speech yesterday.
He also wanted Britain to lead a "crusade" for the opening up of services markets globally as it leaves the EU, and said the country wanted to remain open to skilled workers.