Tories admit timetable defeat on day 1 of Brexit negotiations 

Britain trips at first hurdle in Brexit talks ‘sequencing’ decision 

THE EUROPEAN UNION’S PREFERRED order for Brexit talks has prevailed as Tory minister David Davis abandoned the pretence that he would challenge EU officials on how the discussions would take place. 

Davis had claimed that the issue of ‘sequencing’ - the order and nature of Brexit negotiations - would “be the row of the summer”. Yet that claim quickly crumbled as soon as talks began between the Tory administration and Michel Barnier of the European Commission in Brussels. 

The document released after the first day of discussion on “Terms of Reference for the Article 50 TEU negotiations” stated: “The following initial negotiating groups have been established: Citizens' rights; Financial Settlement; Other Separation issues. In addition, a dialogue on Ireland / Northern Ireland has been launched under the authority of the Coordinators.”

Tory Prime Minister Theresa May had called for ‘parallel talks’ on the UK’s future relationship with the EU - primary making early progress on a trade deal. With now only 21 months to sign and ratify the exit deal, there is a limited time for any trade agreement. The insistence of EU figures and government to agree the ‘divorce terms’ first, means agreeing a full trade deal by March 2019 is now highly unlikely. 

Barnier, following the talks in a joint press conference with Davis, said: “Today we agreed on dates. We agreed on organisation and we agreed on priorities for the negotiation.”

“In a 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 the UK happens in an orderly manner.

“Then, in a second step, we will scope our future relationship. We also agreed on how we will structure our talks. Our aim is to have one week of negotiations every month. And use the time in between to work on proposals and exchange them.”

The agreed format lists “Indicative dates” of five rounds of talks as 19th June, 28th August, 18th September, 9th October. 

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When asked about agreeing the structure of talks, David Davis has previously said: “That’ll be the row of the summer.” He also predicted the start of UK-global trade talks by September 2016, and that German industry would pressure their government to get a special deal for Britain. Neither happened.

Legal commentator David Allen Green said the Tories had “capitulated on day one”.  

“It has shown the futility of the UK boasting and blustering with red lines. This may not be the first one to be crossed,” he wrote. “Second, it shows the stronger negotiating position of the EU, and the benefits of long and detailed preparation.

“Third, it may show that the UK (unlike in May) is less able to negotiate the UK’s future trade relationship with the EU, as the the UK government since the election does not have an agreed position.”

Davis has said he was “encouraged by the constructive approach” as the talks began.

Picture courtesy of European Commission

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