EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier and UK Secretary of State for Exiting the EU David Davis gave a press conference following the first day of formal negotiations on the UK's departure from the EU. Terms of reference for the negotiations were agreed.
Jean Monnet v Winston Churchill
Mr Barnier said that it was a very important and useful first session, where the two sides agreed on dates, organisation, and priorities for the negotiations. The first stage should lift uncertainty and make sure of an orderly Brexit, while the second will scope the future partnership. The aim is to have one week of negotiations every month, and use the time in between to exchange proposals. Three working groups have been set up – on citizens' rights, the single financial settlement, and on other separation issues. These groups will report back to their principals during each negotiating week.
It was agreed that the deputy negotiators Olly Robbins and Sabine Weyand will start a dialogue on Ireland, with the Good Friday Agreement and the common travel area being priorities. He stressed the importance of guaranteeing the rights of citizens on both sides of the channel. Finally he stressed that the EU27 were united and agreed to continue moving forward together, and that a fair deal is possible and "far better than no deal". Quoting EU founding father Jean Monnet he underlined that "I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic, I am determined".
Mr Davis agreed that the discussions had been very productive, and that both sides want to achieve the best outcome and strongest partnership. The rights of citizens were key and he felt that there was much common ground on this. He noted that the Prime Minister will later this week update EU leaders on the UK approach to this issue at the European Council, and that the UK government will on Monday publish a detailed paper outlining "our offer". He promised to also brief other parties and parliament in general.
Her reiterated Mr Barnier's points on what had been agreed today, and finished by quoting Winston Churchill: "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty".
Journalists focus on Ireland and 'UK weakness'
The first question was on why Irish issues were being given a lower priority than citizens' rights and the financial settlement.
David Davies argued that Ireland in fact took up more time today than any other issue, with discussions of the political sensitivities and the determination to maintain as near as possible an invisible border. He stressed that it was technically a difficult issue, but is probably soluble, which is why talks began today.
Michel Barnier agreed that it was incorrect to say that the issue had been set aside, recalling his address to the Irish parliament a few weeks ago. He stressed that a new Northern Irish executive needed to be set up soon, noting that there was a new government in Dublin and ongoing negotiations in London.
He stated that new Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar would be meeting Jean-Claude Juncker on Thursday and that he himself would meet the new Foreign Minister tomorrow. He said that a solution to the border needed to be found that was compliant with the internal market, and that there was "an awful lot of work to do".
The next question asked whether today's agreement was a sign of UK weakness, as the EU appeared to have got its way on the structure of the talks.
David Davies stressed that it was not how the talks start but how they finish that is key, and that everything was consistent with what the UK had said previously. He said that although talks on a future relationship would not begin at the same time as exit talks, they could be concluded simultaneously – "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed".
When asked about future trade relations and the consistency of UK demands, David Davies said that the position had not changed – the UK leave the Single Market and the Customs Union.
Michel Barnier said that Article 50 is clear and that negotiators need to make sure that there is an orderly withdrawal. "When the time comes", discussions would focus on the future relationship, and he noted that there are different forms of cooperation with third countries, all of which would require both sides to weigh the rights and obligations.
He noted the importance of protecting the rights of British citizens in the EU, and vice-versa, and said that his approach was "citizens first". He said that their and their families' rights acquired up to the date of withdrawal needed to be protected based on principles of reciprocity, continuity and non-discrimination. Work had started on this today, and he looked forward to the UK paper on the issue.
In response to another question about Ireland, David Davis repeated his earlier points, and said that negotiations between the Conservatives and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) had nothing to do with this. Michel Barnier said that current discussions in London were very interesting.
The next question was on transparency and publication of information. Michel Barnier said that he had agreed with Presidents Tusk and Juncker on full transparency, and that he wanted as broad and open a debate as possible, noting that the EU position papers were published a few days ago, for instance. He said that he "preferred transparency to leaks", and that public debate was vital.
David Davies agreed that the public should be properly informed.
The final question was whether the UK had lost the argument on phasing the negotiations, and if Mr Barnier could point to any concessions that he had made so far.
David Davies reiterated his point that the terms of the future relationship could be agreed along with the exit terms, and that this discussion could cover trade, customs and security, among other issues.
Michel Barnier stated that his mandate was clear, and talking about an orderly withdrawal first was logical. He stressed that the UK had decided to leave the EU, not the other way round, and that both sides needed understand the consequences of their actions, rejecting talk of concessions.
Indicative Dates for Negotiations
• w/c 17th July
• w/c 28th August
• w/c 18th September
• w/c 9th October
Alex Boxell is Senior Policy Analyst on the DeHavilland EU team. He first joined the company in 2012, initially in an editorial role before taking over the financial services portfolio. Before this he studied at Oxford and Leiden, where he received a master’s degree in EU Studies.