TALKS on Brexit began yesterday with the government insisting it is determined to quit the single market and the customs union.
David Davis said his encounter with the European Union’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier was ‘constructive’ — but the Brexit secretary was told the UK faces ‘substantial consequences’.
Despite Theresa May wanting parallel talks on a new trade deal while negotiating the ‘divorce’, this would have to wait until later, the EU said.
Mr Davis and Mr Barnier agreed to meet every four weeks during the two-year negotiation, and set up working groups to tackle key issues.
Immediate priorities would include securing protection for EU citizens living in the UK and Britons abroad. Mrs May will brief fellow EU leaders at a summit on Thursday on the UK’s approach, which will be set out in a paper on Monday, Mr Davis revealed.
Northern Ireland’s border with the Republic and the bill for Britain’s previous EU commitments will also be high on the agenda, Mr Barnier said.
Mr Davis described the timetable as ‘ambitious but eminently achievable’.
He said: ‘We’re determined to get on with the job and deliver certainty as soon as possible. There’s a long way to go but we’re off to a promising start.
‘No doubt the road ahead will be challenging but, as Winston Churchill once said: a pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity, an optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.’
He insisted: ‘We will be leaving the single market — we’ll be seeking to set up a free trade agreement. Similarly, we will be leaving the customs union — that’s the only way we can develop our free trade arrangements with the rest of the world.’
But Mr Barnier warned: ‘The United Kingdom is going to leave the European Union, single market and the customs union, not the other way around.
‘So, we each have to assume our responsibility and the consequences of our decisions — and the consequences are substantial.’ But he said it was ‘not about punishment’ or ‘revenge’ and promised to ‘stick to the facts, the figures, and the legal basis’.