Brexit talks to focus on expats, UK's 'divorce bill' and Northern Ireland border
Brexit talks in Brussels on Monday will focus on the status of expats, the UK's "divorce bill" and the Northern Ireland border, rather than on future trade relations with the European Union, it has been confirmed.
The European Commission said the one-day meeting between its chief negotiator Michel Barnier and Brexit Secretary David Davis will take place "as part of the sequenced approach to the talks" set out by the EU, which require progress to be made on withdrawal arrangements before any talks on trade can begin.
But Mr Davis insisted the UK still wants to negotiate its future trade relationship with the EU "alongside" talks on the terms for Brexit, which he said was the process set out in Article 50 of the EU treaties.
The article states that discussions on a member's withdrawal must "take account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union".
A spokesman for his Department for Exiting the EU said Britain had been "crystal clear" about its approach.
"Our view is that withdrawal agreement and terms of the future relationship must be agreed alongside each other," said the spokesman. "We are clear this is what is set out in Article 50.
"We believe that the withdrawal process cannot be concluded without the future relationship also being taken into account. As the EU has itself said, 'nothing is agreed, until everything is agreed'.”
"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'. But the withdrawal and future are intimately linked."
The spokesman said the UK's "first aim" was to move ahead on securing the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU.
"We want to end the anxiety facing 4 million citizens," he said. "That has always been our first aim and that is what we will do. That is why we are pushing ahead with negotiations on Monday."
Chancellor Philip Hammond said the Government's priority in the negotiations should be to protect jobs, economic growth and prosperity.
His comments are likely to be seen as a further indication he is pressing for the Government to take a "softer" line on Brexit than the immigration-driven approach previously set out by Theresa May.
Speaking as he arrived for a meeting of EU finance ministers in Luxembourg, he said: "As we go into that negotiation, my clear view - and I believe the view of the majority of people in Britain - is that we should prioritise protecting jobs, protecting economic growth and protecting prosperity as we enter those negotiations and take them forward."
The Chancellor had been due to use a high-profile speech in the City of London on Thursday night to send out a message the Government would protect business from shocks during the Brexit process.
But his planned address was postponed because of the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy.
The agenda for the June 19 meeting was agreed by Mr Barnier and Mr Davis on Thursday, following preparatory "talks about talks" this week at civil service level between the European Commission and the United Kingdom.
The Commission statement said: "The opening of negotiations at political level next week will focus on issues related to citizens' rights, the financial settlement, the Northern Irish border and other separation issues, as part of the sequenced approach to the talks.”
"Both sides will also discuss the structure of the negotiations and the issues that need to be addressed over the coming months."
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer has written to Mr Davis urging him to "reset" the Government's "belligerent and reckless" approach to leaving the EU, warning that Theresa May's "inflexible" stance makes a good deal for Britain less likely.
In the letter, obtained by the Financial Times, he urged ministers to make jobs and the economy their priority in negotiations.
He said they should drop their claim that "no deal is better than a bad deal", warning: "No deal has never been a viable option. To threaten to jump off a cliff rather than to be pushed is not a viable negotiating strategy."
Sir Keir said the loss of Mrs May's overall majority in the June 8 General Election meant Parliament could no longer be "marginalised" in the Brexit process and "appropriate steps" must be taken to prepare for a Labour administration to take over negotiations at any stage if Mrs May's Government falls.
"It is clear that the Government can no longer seek to silence opposition or sideline Parliament," said Sir Keir. "There must be a new spirit of openness and transparency, in which challenge and scrutiny are welcomed."