Brexit negotiations to get under way today

The Brexit negotiations between the UK and the EU are scheduled formally to get under way at around midday French time, almost exactly one year after Britain voted to leave the European Union.

Both sides have said they wish to prioritise discussing expat rights – whether EU27 citizens in the UK or Britons in the EU27 – however it is understood that today’s opening session will mostly consist of ‘talks about talks’, that is agreeing on how the negotiations will proceed over coming months.

This comes amid concerns about the weakened state of the British government, which has no parliamentary majority, and its plans to shore up its mandate with a deal with the DUP party of Northern Irish unionists.

The DUP deal has yet to be finalised despite the Brexit talks starting today and the Queen’s Speech, setting out what the government hopes to do in the next two years was rescheduled for Wednesday. Because of the Brexit talks, next year’s speech has been cancelled as the government announced the unusual measure of extending the next parliamentary session over two years, instead of the usual one.

As we discuss in July’s edition of The Connexion newspaper, out later this week, there are various theories as to what the government’s disarray may mean for Brexit – whether soft, hard or ‘brutal’ (crashing out with no deal).

Prior to the General Election the previous May government outlined a desired outcome involving leaving the single market and customs union, ECJ control and EU payments, as well as restricting EU immigration (though welcoming the ‘brightest and best’) while at the same time aiming to protect existing expats and obtain a favourable deal for trade.

However Mrs May said that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’.

Chancellor Philip Hammond admitted yesterday on The Andrew Marr Show that ‘no deal’ would be a “very, very bad outcome”, however it is unknown what the present government’s strategy will be, as the UK has submitted no preliminary papers about its position, unlike the EU which has set its out in several documents on a public website.

‘No deal’ would be especially bad for expat rights, unless a separate deal on expats could be salvaged even if everything else falls through.

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The talks are expected to follow the plan set out by the EU: that there must be some progress on expat rights and the ‘divorce bill’ (as well as certain other urgent matters like the border of Northern Ireland), before talks may begin on an outline for the ‘future relationship’, including trade.

The EU has said that the exact sum to be paid by the UK may not need to be agreed at the outset, but that there should be quick agreement on principles of what is to be included in it.

A spokesman for ECREU (one of the expat rights groups in the British in Europe coalition) Dave Spokes, said: “Now Theresa May has no majority, our 9,000 members are holding their breath in anticipation of a more realistic approach to Brexit and for their government to take the lead and prioritise the guaranteeing of UK citizen's rights.

“We are also calling for those rights to be ring-fenced protecting them regardless of the final outcome of Brexit."

He added that the lack of commitment and information so far is causing worry to working families and pensioners alike.

While the EU has given strong assurances of its commitment to expats – essentially offering to guarantee for life for existing rights of expats living in their respective countries on the day the UK leaves – Mr Spokes said the UK had yet to issue any formal statement on this.

"It cannot continue to keep its citizens in the dark on critical issues that could impact their future lives, finances and general wellbeing," he said. 

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