Britain, EU start negotiations on UK exit as London is hit by fresh terror attack

2017-06-19 17:45:11 | From:

A worker arranges flags at the EU headquarters as Britain and the EU launch Brexit talks in Brussels, June 19, 2017. [Photo/Agencies]

Britain and the European Union have on Monday started formal talks on the UK's departure from the EU, with the British government still wracked by internal disagreement over what kind of deal they want.

UK Secretary of the State for Exiting the European Union David Davies sat down with his team to start the process, with Michel Barnier and his aides.

The system worked out by both sides called for a monthly cycle, consisting of two weeks of officials laying out the month's negotiating points, followed by a week's hard bargaining between Davies and Barnier. The fourth week would then allow both sides to brief their respective governments - 27 in the case of the EU - before moving on to the next agreed agenda item.

The UK government's ruling Conservative Party has been divided over the deal, with long-standing opponents of the EU membership demanding a so-called "hard Brexit". Others, including Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, urged a "soft Brexit", which would include remaining in the single customs union, accepting the free movement of EU citizens, and continuing to recognise the Europe Court of Justice.

On Monday, the Guardian reported EU officials were concerned the UK government's current weakened state, plus concerns it was distracted about continuing terror attacks and a major deadly fire at a London residential tower block, could mean a disjointed approach in the exit talks.

Prime Minister Theresa May, who previously had a comfortable 17 seat parliamentary majority, held an unexpected snap general election earlier this month, which left her short of the overall number of seats needed to govern, although her Conservatives were the largest party.

A reminder of the problems faced by May and her colleagues came early on Monday, when a van was driven deliberately into worshippers leaving a north London Mosque, killing one and injuring ten. The driver, a white male, was arrested and charged with murder. Eyewitnesses said he shouted "I want to kill Muslims" as he was detained.


A man checks his phone outside the EU headquarters as Britain and the EU launch Brexit talks in Brussels, June 19, 2017. [Photo/Agencies]

Police are treating the event as a terrorist incident, which followed two attacks in London involving vehicles. In March, an Islamic militant killed five people, including an unarmed policeman, when he drove his SUV into a crowd near the Houses of Parliament. He was shot dead at the scene, along with three other militants who ran a van into crowds near London's Borough Market earlier this month. They jumped out of the vehicle and stabbed people before being shot by police marksmen. A total of eight people died.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, whose abrupt decision to back the leave campaign last year, who was also believed to have swung the vote in favour of the departure, said he favoured a softer approach on Sunday.

"We are going to deliver not a soft Brexit or a hard Brexit, but an open Brexit," he wrote in the Sunday Times.

"One that ensures the UK is still turned outwards, and more engaged than ever before."

"That means properly looking after the interests of the 3.2 million EU citizens who live and work here – always assuming there are reciprocal protections for the 1 million UK nationals in the rest of the EU."

The Sunday Times reported Prime Minister Theresa May was preparing to fly to Brussels on Thursday to offer protection of the right of EU citizens already working and living in the UK, in return for similar assurances on Britons living in the EU.

Senior government officials said they hoped the gesture would be seen as a conciliatory move by the UK towards the EU, which had so far been unwavering in its approach to the talks, which have been a consequence of May signing the formal letter known as Article 50, signalling the UK's desire to leave the EU.

Britain had been demanding discussions to leave the EU should run parallel to trade talks, but the EU team has insisted the mechanics of departure, including the settlement of any outstanding financial commitments, should be sequential.

Officials said Davies and his team would accept talks had to be sequential, rather than the parallel discussions they had envisioned.

So far, there has already been a reaction to Brexit – earlier this month health authorities reported a dramatic slump in the number of EU nurses applying to work in Britain’s National Health Service (NHS). The Nursing and Midwifery Council said the number of applications fell from more than 1,300 last July to just 34 in April. It said the NHS had a shortage of 30,000 nursing staff.

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