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One year after first Brexit talk, still long list to unravel before "divorce"

2018/6/20 10:59:37   source:Xinhua

A year on from the very first meeting between Brexit minister David Davis and the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, Britain remains a country divided.

British and EU negotiators started two days of talks Tuesday in Brussels, concentrating on talks about the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic on day one.

Wednesday sees a round a talks on the crucial question of the future relationship between the UK and EU. Neither Davis nor Barnier will take part in these talks.

Davis, son of a single mom, was appointed to the job by Prime Minister Theresa May following the 2016 when, against all expectations, Britain voted by a 52-48 margin to end its membership of the European Union.

Just days after May's snap general election on June 8, 2017, Davis headed to Brussels for his first face-to-face meeting with Michel Barnier, the politician mandated by the EU to negotiate Britain's departure terms.

May had gone into the snap election in the hope of building on her narrow majority in the House of Commons. Instead she emerged leading a minority government, striking a deal worth more than a billion dollars, to get the small Northern Ireland party, the Democratic Unionists Party, to shore up her fragile hold on government.

It meant Davis was already weakened as he journeyed to Brussels for that first encounter. The talks were billed as the most important negotiations in British history.

The Guardian reported on that crucial introductory meeting between the pair that an election-chastened Conservative government had been forced to accept it could not dictate the terms of Brexit.

Instead, the newspaper reported, Britain made a significant climbdown on the first day of talks in Brussels.

"It now seems clear that a 'divorce bill' running into billions will have to be agreed before negotiations on the big prize of free trade can commence," the report added.

Davis, the Brexit secretary, tried to put on a brave face, saying: "It's not how it starts, it's how it finishes that matters."

Barnier said after the meeting: "I am not in a frame of mind to make concessions or ask for concessions ... We are looking to unravel 43 years of patiently built relations."

A year on, and with the departure date set at 23.00 hours GMT on March 29, 2019, Brexit negotiations have proved to be a difficult beast to tame.

Still unresolved is the question of the 500 kilometer border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, which will remain as a member of the EU.

The border between the two will be the only UK-EU land border after next March, but both the British and Irish governments insist they don't want border posts.

The other big question is Britain's future relationship with the European single market and its customs union.

The EU insists on sticking to its rules, that membership of the two, mean free movement of EU citizens. One of the strongest factors in the referendum vote in 2016 had been control of immigration into Britain.

Marking the anniversary Professor Anthony Glees from the University of Buckingham said the Brexit vote has led to political and now constitutional chaos without parallel in recent times.

"Mrs May has in effect lost the slim majority she cobbled up a year ago. Investment in the UK is down by about 60 percent since 2016. The pound sterling has lost around 15percentof its value and there has been only a 1 percent growth in exports as a result. Productivity continues to slump. Major companies are pulling out of the UK if trying not to publicize this as they want to continue to sell to British people," he said..

Glees told Xinhua: "Brexiters have not revealed their economic and political blueprint for Brexit and plainly more and more people are beginning to wonder if they have one, or, if they do, whether it will be so radical that the UK will take 15-20 years to recover.

"The British people have never had it explained that membership of the EU is an investment in a club which brought a return of ten times the fee. They don't now understand that you can't have the privileges of membership without paying."

Glees, a supporter of the EU, was outspoken in his views on leading politicians.

"Big political egos like Boris Johnson (the Foreign Secretary) leading Brexiteer Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg and cabinet minister Michael Gove are circling like sharks, waiting to destroy Ms May," said Glees.

"No one knows how this will end. Some think there will have to be a second referendum, but the tragic Grenfell Tower fire in London will come to be seen as the symbol of the painful Brexiting of Britain," added Glees.

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