A year after its historic vote, Britain yesterday finally opened negotiations with the other 27 EU nations about leaving the bloc, with the final outcome, due in 2019, as globally important as it now seems unpredictable.
The two chief negotiators, Michel Barnier of the EU and David Davis of Britain, immediately set off to find common ground in their working relationship, an important touchstone to see how amicable the biggest political divorce in decades will become.
“Our objective is clear. We must first tackle the uncertainties caused by Brexit,” centering on citizens living in each other’s territory, border arrangements between Ireland and the UK, and the amount that Britain stands to pay to get out of its previous EU commitments, Barnier said.
Davis said he was looking for a “positive and constructive tone” to deal with the myriad issues dividing both sides.
While the EU negotiating team led by Barnier has been ready for months, British efforts on Brexit stalled even after it triggered the two-year process on March 29. An early election this month, in which British Prime Minister Theresa May lost her Conservative majority in parliament, only added to the problems.
“Our big problem is that we have no picture, no idea at all, what the British want,” said Manfred Weber, the head of the European People’s Party Christian Democrat group in the European Parliament.
The other EU countries have a united position, but the British are “in chaos,” Weber added.
May’s government said it was “confident it can achieve a bold and ambitious deal that will work in the interest of the whole UK.”
The EU said it was also looking for a good compromise.
Davis and Barnier have one key issue over the first weeks of talks: building trust after months of haggling over leaks and figures over the final bill that Britain would have to pay for leaving.
After Britain’s referendum to leave the bloc last year, the other 27 nations wanted to start the exit talks as soon as possible so they could work on their own futures, but Britain long seemed dazed by its own momentous move.
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