The British government has dropped its demand to hold simultaneous negotiations on both the terms of its exit from the European Union, and a free trade deal that would take affect once it leaves the bloc, senior EU diplomats told Handelsblatt.
London signaled to EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier last week that it accepts the bloc’s roadmap for negotiations, the sources said. Brussels has insisted that it will hold talks on a free trade deal only after the terms of Brexit have been finalized.
Now David Davis, who is in charge of negotiations on the British side, heads to Brussels on Monday for the first round of talks with the EU. Brussels wants to outline the fundamental features of an exit agreement early on in negotiations.
An EU press release on Friday said the first round of talks will focus on citizens rights, the financial settlement, and on issues surrounding the Northern Irish border.
London is expected to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in Britain, secure the peace agreement in northern Ireland and agree to fulfill its outstanding financial obligations to the EU.
According to Handelsblatt information, the European Commission has estimated Britain’s current outstanding financial obligations, the so-called Brexit bill, at less than €70 billion ($78 billion), according to EU diplomats. Brussels aims to first reach an agreement with London on how to calculate its financial obligations. An exact amount and payment date would be set at the end of the negotiations, sources in Brussels said.
British Prime Minister Theresa May lost the Tories’ majority in the House of Commons in snap elections earlier in the month.
Ms. May’s surprise loss has been interpreted as a rejection of her more hard-line position on Brexit negotiations with the EU and many politicians in Germany and France have made it clear the door is open to a more congenial relationship between the EU and Britain.
It should become clear soon whether the divorce will be “hard” or “soft,” which would see Britain retaining full access to the EU’s single market.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told the newspaper Welt am Sonntag that “maybe there is a now a chance to achieve a so-called soft Brexit.” But he added that this would require Britain to accept EU workers’ freedom of movement, a political flash point among UK citizens right now.
Several countries including Germany are also waiting to see what will happen to the various EU agencies based in the UK. German authorities have confirmed they will apply to be the home of the European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency, which are both currently based in London.
Ruth Berschens heads the Handelsblatt Brussel bureau. Katharina Slodczyk is a correspondent working at Handelsblatt’s London bureau. Meera Selva, an editor at Handelsblatt Global, contributed to this article. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com