Round 1: Brexit talks start in Brussels with 20 months to go

Round 1: Brexit talks start in Brussels with 20 months to go

Round 1: Brexit talks start in Brussels with 20 months to go

Barnier said, "We will now delve into the heart of the matter", before the two sat down for a first meeting flanked by the officials who will lead the detailed negotiations.

After what the British Brexit Secretary David Davis described as a "good start" last month, a series of public spats have developed in recent weeks between British cabinet members and the EU.

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". Prime Minister Theresa May passed Brexit legislation through parliament before triggering article 50, with the bill making no mention of European Union citizens' rights.

Monday's discussions will focus on citizen's rights and the bill the United Kingdom will pay to exit.

There are some 3 million European Union citizens in Britain, and about 1.5 million United Kingdom nationals in the other 27 European Union countries.

All three issues will be on the agenda for this week's discussions, which are expected to continue to Thursday, along with the thorny matter of the future border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

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".

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They want to frustrate Brexit. Over the weekend he was subjected to briefings against him over a range of remarks he had allegedly made at a Cabinet meeting last week. One said Hammond had urged against lifting pay restraints on what he called "overpaid" public sector workers, while another quoted the chancellor as saying driving modern trains was so easy that "even a woman can do it".

"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.

Sources in Brussels were also more optimistic on the eve of the talks about avoiding a total breakdown in negotiations, after the United Kingdom formally recognised financial obligations to the European Union in a written statement to parliament last 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.

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". The EU remains uncertain about whether British negotiators will be able to conclude an agreement, amid deep political divides in the government on Brexit.

The European Council President said it was "below expectations".

On Sunday, the former Tory chair Chris Patten warned that the Brexit deadlock represented one of the bleakest moments in British postwar history.

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