UK, EU negotiators to 'get down to work' on Brexit terms

One key early advance that European Union officials hope for this week is for Britain to stop challenging the principle it will owe Brussels money - though how much will have to be argued over and can not be calculated until Britain actually leaves.

The depth of division among Prime Minister Theresa May's ministers was highlighted over the weekend as Hammond was accused of using the Treasury to "frustrate" the Brexit process.

David Davis, the UK's Brexit minister, took a break from cabinet infighting on Monday to make a lightning trip to Brussels, albeit one mainly notable for an awkward photo opportunity.

Davis added that apart from citizens' rights and the UK's exit bill, Northern Ireland issues are also a priority of these talks.

The EU has demonstrated increasing confidence in recent weeks, accusing Britain of dithering over whether it wants a "hard" or "soft" Brexit more than a year after the shock referendum that propelled May to power.

Mr Davis said they made a "good start" at last month's preliminary talks - but it was now time to "get to the nitty-gritty".

Davis is expected to call for both sides to "get down to business" as he arrives for the second round.

Barnier, who has repeatedly called on Britain to set out a full divorce strategy, said they needed to "examine and compare our respective positions in order to make good progress".

Hammond told BBC1's Andrew Marr show: "If you want my opinion, some of the noise is generated by people who are not happy with the agenda that I have".

Barnier said on Monday that the talks, which run to Thursday, would "delve into the heart of the matter".

"I do think on many fronts it would be helpful if my colleagues - all of us - focused on the job at hand", he told the BBC.

The prime minister had made similar pronouncements before, but the statement to MPs and peers carried weight in Brussels.

While we know the issue of the Irish border is high on the agenda for these discussions, the weeks since the last round of talks have seen a number of public clashes between United Kingdom and European Union leaders which are sure to be mentioned this week.

And Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson then fanned the flames when he said Brussels could "go whistle" if it expected the United Kingdom to pay a hefty "divorce bill" in respect of its outstanding financial obligations. These two key players will meet regularly through the week, with the aim of keeping the talks on track.

Mr Barnier, who has made clear that he is not prepared to start talks on a trade deal until there has been sufficient progress on the financial settlement, retorted icily he could not hear any whistling, "just the clock ticking". If that happens, parallel negotiations can commence on Britain's future relationship with the European Union after Brexit.

Some estimates put this bill at an astronomical $112 billion, while European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has mentioned $69 billion as the magic number.


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