The Brexit talks officially start today, (June 19 2017) with the UK Brexit Secretary David Davis meeting the chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier at the European Commission's Berlaymont headquarters. These negotiations signal the beginning of the end of the UK's 44 years of EU membership.
The UK and the EU are now starting on the two-year negotiation process during which they will agree the terms on which Britain leaves the European Union and determine its future relationship with the continent.
Negotiations start exactly one year after Britain shocked the world by voting to exit the European Union and nearly three months since Prime Minister Theresa May locked the country into a two-year countdown to Brexit in March 2019. The future remains unclear however, with May's own immediate political survival now in doubt after she lost her majority in a snap election, ten days ago.
The two teams are due to meet for the first time today and the main aim of the meeting is to agree the format of future talks and to build trust. Officials on both sides are playing down expectations of what can be achieved in one day.
EU diplomats hope this first meeting and a summit in Brussels later this week, where May will be present but will not negotiate with EU leaders, can improve the atmosphere after recent spiky comments from both sides.
Davis said that the hard work begins now, adding that he wanted a deal that worked for both sides. The talks will be difficult, but he is expecting that all points will be approached in a constructive way.
Davis's agreement to Monday's agenda has led some EU officials to believe that May's government may at last coming around to Brussels' view of how the negotiations should be run.
Britain's Boris Johnson said that he looked forward to “a happy revolution” in relations that would be good for Britain and the rest of Europe, pointing out that the most important thing for both sides is to think about their new partnership, the deep and special partnership that the UK wants to build with their friends.
While Brexit supporters have strongly backed May's proposed clean break with the single market and customs union, finance minister Philip Hammond and others have this month echoed calls by businesses for less of a “hard Brexit” and retaining closer customs ties.
With discontent in Scotland and a troubled Northern Ireland, which faces a new EU border across the divided island, Brexit now poses a new threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom.
The priorities for Brussels will be the rights of the 3 million EU citizens in Britain as well as the tens of billions of Euros it says London will owe on its departure.
Brussels is also resisting British demands for immediate talks on a future free trade arrangement. The EU insists that trade talks should wait until an outline agreement on divorce terms has been agreed, ideally by the end of this year. In any case, EU officials say, London no longer seems sure of what trade arrangements it will ask for.
On the other side, May says she wants a deal on the rights of the million British expatriates in the EU, and continues to insist that her Brexit plan remains unchanged despite recent events.
The UK Government has announced that due to the amount of legislative work involved in the Brexit preparations, the next parliamentary session will be extended from 1 year to 2 years. The plans for the next 2 years of government are due to be presented to the UK parliament in the Queen's speech on Wednesday and this should make the Government's position clearer, following the recent speculation of a softening in the approach. This will be the next big test for May's Government because if the contents of the Queen's speech are not approved by MP's then a further period of uncertainly and internal negotiations will need to take place with the possibility of another general election if no agreement can be reached.
We will be closely monitoring these important negotiations over the coming months and will bring you updates on all the major events as they unfold.