Theresa May made clear throughout the general election campaign that Brexit talks would begin just 11 days after polling day. She was right to say that, as David Davis has gone off to Brussels today to get the ball rolling.
Philip Hammond was not entirely helpful to the Prime Minister’s negotiating strategy over the weekend, but his Brexiteer cabinet colleagues are rallying behind her. Michael Gove – the new Environment Secretary – told the Today programme this morning that he believed she would still be in Downing Street when Britain leaves in March 2019, a view echoed by Boris Johnson. “There is a huge task to get on with Brexit”, the Foreign Secretary said.
Meanwhile, the formal pleasantries have been underway in Brussels. Mr Davis has exchanged hiking-related gifts with his opposite number – Michel Barnier – seemingly acknowledging that they have a mountain to climb together over the course of these talks. The first day of discussions have been focusing on the status of expats, the UK’s “divorce bill” and the Northern Ireland border, while British officials have been pushing to talk about trade relations at the same time as handling the terms of withdrawal.
The Brexit Secretary has vowed to thrash out a “deal like no other in history” with Mr Barnier. His EU opposite number will be a formidable negotiator, according to Mark Hoban – who dealt with him for years as a Treasury minister. “He prepares well and knows his limits,” he wrote in today’s paper. “This will help in the Brexit talks as he will know just how far he can go to secure a good outcome for both sides.” Both men will soon be wrapping up their first day of talks – follow our liveblog for the latest on what emerges.
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