As Brexit negotiations finally begin in Brussels, the UK government softens its more bellicose rhetoric and talks up a 'positive' EU departure, writes Alec Marsh
The pound rose slightly against the dollar, reaching more than $1.28 at noon, but fell against the euro today as Brexit negotiations finally began in Brussels.
After months of domestic wrangling in the UK, the focus of attention finally shifted to the Belgian capital for the beginning of negotiations, triggered by the activation of article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty back in March.
Official talks, led for Britain by Brexit Secretary David Davis, and by Michel Barnier, on behalf of the EU, began at 11am today at the European Commission’s headquarters. Mr Davis went into the talks announcing that he was in a ‘positive and constructive’ frame of mind and that he was determined to build a ‘strong and special partnership’ with the EU.
Today’s talks are expected to be the first of four or five sets of talks to be held over the summer concerning the first phase of the negotiations, namely the terms of Britain’s departure from the EU. Key issues up for discussion concern the so-called Brexit divorce bill – how much the UK will have to pay to meet its outstanding financial obligations to the EU, a reported to be anything up to £100 billion over the last months. Next is the fate of the UK residents in the EU and EU residents in the UK: will they be able to stay on? Finally, another crunch issue for the talks this summer is the border in Ireland between north and south, which will particularly exercise the government as it continues to work with the DUP.
This morning the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, also signalled an upbeat shift in the government’s tone of voice about the talks, which need to be concluded by March 2019 when Britain is due to leave the EU. ‘The most important thing now is to be as positive as we possibly can,’ he told BBC Radio 4 Today. ‘There’s much more good will among our European partners than you might think from the debate in the UK right now.’
Putting a ‘free trade deal’ in place and a building a ‘deep and special partnership with our friends’ in Europe was at the heart of the government’s negotiations, he said, as he called for people in Britain to ‘look to the future’. Finally he claimed the negotiations would offer ‘a revolution’ which would solve a longstanding issue in British politics.
By now, it should be clear to Mr Davis just how much 'good will' there is out there among our European partners. We can only hope there is; after all, the 27 nations of the EU have used the last three months to get their ducks in line on their terms for Britain’s departure from the bloc, while the tides have been changing here following the hung parliament. Whatever happens now, the hot air of the referendum campaign and the months of debate that have followed it are over, and the real talking has begun.
Alec Marsh is editor of Spear’s