Brexit Talks Begin With Tight Schedule Set and Divorce-Bill Disagreement

So said David Davis, the UK's Brexit secretary, on Britain's relationship with the European Union as formal negotiations on Brexit finally began in Brussels yesterday.

May officially triggered the two-year Brexit process in March when she was riding high in the opinion polls.

Mr Davis said he was optimistic about the process and the British appeared upbeat about the prospects of trade talks beginning before the final details of divorce proceedings had been agreed.

"We launch negotiations in a positive and constructive tone, determined to build a strong and special partnership between ourselves and our European allies and friends in the future". However, not much clarity was provided immediately after the first official meeting of the EU-UK sides.

The bloc would first seek to reach an agreement on European Union citizens rights, the UK's departure bill, and the future border between the Republic of Ireland, an European Union member, and Northern Ireland, a British region.

Both men said they had spent a great deal of time discussing the question of Northern Ireland where all parties seek to uphold the free border. A trade agreement can only be completed once the United Kingdom leaves the bloc.

"It's not when it starts it's how it finishes that matters", he said.

"They should be agreed alongside each other, this is completely consistent with the Council's guidelines which state nothing is agreed until everything is agreed".

Davis said Britain's negotiating position had not changed as a result of his Conservative Party's poor showing in recent elections.

"It's not about punishment, it is not about revenge". Some European officials say that could take years.

He added: "The United Kingdom has chose to leave the European Union, it is not the other way around".

"We need back control of our borders, we will leave the single market and the customs union." he said. "It is not the other way around.So we each have to assume our responsibility and the consequences of our decision, and the consequences are substantial".

"And the consequences are substantial".

Davis, a prominent tough-talking figure in the "Leave" campaign, sounded a positive note, saying that while there would "undoubtedly be challenging times ahead" he wanted a good relationship with the EU.

Davis, taking up the historical theme, quoted British wartime leader Winston Churchill. "The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty".

"Today marks the start of the journey for the United Kingdom and the European Union. The position we have agreed today is completely consistent with our long-standing position we have set out on article 50".

"In the first step, we will deal with the most pressing issues".

"Now, we have a shared responsibility to deliver quick and substantive progress".

The two men will meet for a week every month to negotiate, and use the time in between to "work on proposals".

A terms-of-reference document agreed by Mr Barnier and Mr Davis said further talks would be held in the weeks starting on July 17, Aug 28, Sept 18 and Oct 9.

Mr Davis had previously said not settling both elements simultaneously would be "the row of the summer".