German minister sees hope of 'soft' Brexit, with conditions

Who are the key players in the Brexit negotiations

Who are the key players in the Brexit negotiations

The smiles belied the fact that at stake is not just Britain's future but also Europe's postwar political order and its place in the world, which could be fatally undermined without an agreement by the March 2019 deadline.

According to reports from Press Association (PA), a spokesperson for the UK's Department for Exiting the European Union (EU) said the first aim was to move ahead on securing the rights of EU citizens in the United Kingdom and UK citizens living in the EU and "end the anxiety facing four million citizens".

Davis's agreement to Monday's agenda led some European Union officials to believe May's government may at last be coming around to Brussels' view of how negotiations should be run.

Mr Barnier's insistence on sticking to the EU's priorities for the negotiations comes after Mr Davis appeared to soften his stance on the schedule for the talks.

He vowed to seek "a deal that works in the best interests of all citizens" with Mr Barnier as the pair began discussions at the commission's Berlaymont headquarters in the Belgian capital.

Davis, touching on shared security threats, said: "There is more that unites us than divides us".

And he added: "We are starting this negotiation in a positive and constructive tone, determined to build a strong and special partnership between ourselves and our European allies and friends for the future".

A coalition of influential business groups echoed that sentiment on Monday, saying that the government should "put the economy first" in the Brexit talks.

Norway, which is outside of the European Union but inside the single market, has been described as a "fax democracy" by its former prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg. The euro problems remain and European financial institutions are now disagreeing about the terms they have imposed on Greece for its bail-outs.

Anxious by immigration and loss of sovereignty, Britain voted previous year to end its four-decades-old membership of the 28-country bloc - the first state ever to do so.

An increasingly concerned European Union has been pushing London to hurry up, with time running out for a deal and three months already gone since May triggered the two-year Article 50 European Union exit process.

But she lost her parliamentary majority in the June 8 polls, putting that policy and her own political future in doubt.

The contrast underscored the relative positions as they headed into their first formal talks on unwinding the U.K.'s four decades of membership in Europe's common market.

Chief U.K. negotiator David Davis is meeting his European Union counterpart, former French foreign minister Michel Barnier, to grapple with a complex set of questions about the future of trade and migration, how much the country must pay to settle its bill with the bloc, and the rights of millions of citizens who have settled in Britain or Europe.

The UK Government is also keen to present the negotiations as an opportunity for the EU.

European leaders have repeatedly said that Britain need not go through with its plans for divorce - although they have been tough about what a split would mean if it happens.

With a further million British expatriates in the EU, May too wants a deal on citizens' rights, though the two sides are some way apart.

Macron, a committed pro-EU leader and ally of Merkel, also easily won French legislative elections on Sunday, cementing his power base. She is seeking an arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland.

While "Brexiteers" like Davis 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.

The negotiations will last until March 2019 and are expected to move in a series of phases and cycles.

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