At stake is not just Britain’s future but also Europe’s post-war political order and its place in the world which could be fatally undermined without an agreement by the March 2019 deadline.
The British Brexit minister, David Davis, will open the talks with the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, supported by officials on both sides. “My clear view, and I believe the view of the majority of people in Britain, is that we should prioritize protecting jobs, protecting economic growth, protecting prosperity as we enter those negotiations”, finance minister Philip Hammond said.
“As we also said in our Article 50 letter, “agreeing a high-level approach to the issues arising from our withdrawal will of course be an early priority”.
Davis said the talks would be carried out in “a positive and constructive tone”, with Britain looking to forge a “strong and special partnership for the future”.
Britain is due to leave the European Union at midnight Brussels time (11pm in the UK) on March 29 2019 – unless an extension is agreed by all 27 remaining member states – with or without an agreement.
It announced in a separate statement that Parliament would sit for two years instead of the usual one to give MPs enough time to fully consider the laws required to make Britain ready for Brexit.
The European Court of Justice could be asked to rule on whether the deal requires approval by each EU state.
Tax experts have previously said that the outcome of the UK’s general election on June 8, with the Conservative Party failing to secure a parliamentary majority, could weaken the UK’s negotiating position in Brexit talks.
The two chief negotiators, Michel Barnier of the European Union and David Davis from 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.
While Mr Barnier said it is vital to tackle the “uncertainties” of Brexit – resolving Britain’s Brexit bill, the rights of citizens and the Irish border. As the European Union has itself said, “nothing is agreed, until everything is agreed”.
After the initial shock of last year’s Brexit vote, the bloc at 27 appears to have steadied in recent months and got a real boost with the election of new French President Emmanuel Macron in May.
“If the Government does not provide a user-friendly, flexible and affordable immigration system for European Union nationals post Brexit. significant numbers of employers will be forced to relocate or focus future growth outside the United Kingdom”, said Gerwyn Davies, CIPD labour market adviser.
Anxious by immigration and loss of sovereignty, Britain voted past year to end its four-decades-old membership of the 28-country bloc – the first state ever to do so.
Monday’s talks however are likely to focus on the practical details of timings for the coming months, with the big, divisive issues left aside for now, officials said.
Yet many in Brussels fear that London has no real strategy, with May under pressure at home, still trying to close a deal with a conservative Northern Ireland party to stay in power, and facing criticism for her handling of the aftermath of a devastating tower block fire.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has said that the vote one year ago was partly a vote for Britain to control its borders, and has said that Britain will leave Europe’s single market, as membership is incompatible with restricting immigration. “We need time to achieve the best possible Brexit but that will mean that we can’t fall off a cliff edge”, he warned.