Finally, Britain kicks off Brexit negotiations with EU

Brexit minister David Davis and the EU's negotiator Michel Barnier held their first meeting in the European Commission building, while their teams discussed organisational issues. While repeating a commitment to the UK's exit from the EU, Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, has called for the United Kingdom to retain as numerous benefits of the Single Market as possible, and to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland (see Jill Rutter's analysis of the DUP's position on Brexit). He and Davis are due to give a joint news conference in the evening. Davis, noting shared security threats for governments across Europe hours after a van rammed worshippers at a London mosque, said: "There is more that unites us than divides us".

Commons leader Andrea Leadsom, a leading Brexit supporter, said she believes the two-year timetable can be met.

The water has been poured, the ties straightened and the lengthy binders of documents prepared - yes, Britain's Brexit negotiations with the European Union are about to get underway.

"Because membership of the single market requires the four freedoms [of people, goods, services and capital] to be abided, and [because] we need to bring back to Britain control of our laws, control of our borders, we'll be leaving the single market", he said.

Anxious by immigration and loss of sovereignty, Britons voted last June to become the first nation ever to leave the 28-nation EU.

The vote came as a profound shock to Brussels against a backdrop of rising anti-EU sentiment, with many - including now US President Donald Trump - predicting the bloc's eventual break-up.

May, whose future is uncertain after she lost her Conservative majority in an election this month, has insisted that trade talks start immediately and run in parallel.

"Their influence on the British Government is a cause for deep concern that must be addressed to assure the public and political parties of the independence of the talks process".

"The consensus expectation was for an nearly unanimous decision to keep rates unchanged, however in an unexpected development we got a significant split open up amongst policymakers about whether to hold or whether to hike rates".

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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.

Barnier, a former French minister, has voiced impatience in the past that Britain has taken almost a year to open talks. With or without a deal, Britain will be out of the European Union on March 30, 2019.

A poll published over the weekend shows that a slim majority of Britons now want the chance to vote on the terms of Brexit when the talks are concluded.

They also said their top deputies would immediately begin work on a third issue: How to avoid a "hard border" between Ireland and Northern Ireland that could endanger peace in a region that suffered decades of violence.

In berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasised the unity of the remaining 27 European Union countries, who have been alarmed in recent weeks by May's threats to walk out of the talks.

"It was clear from the opening that both of us want to achieve the best possible outcome and the strongest possible partnership", Davis said.

Macron, a committed pro-EU leader and ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, easily won French legislative elections on Sunday, cementing his power base.

"The point is she is not a unifying figure any more".

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