Initial Brexit talks to focus on Ireland

The first phase of negotiations will focus on citizen’s rights, the financial settlement and the Irish border

Initial Brexit talks to focus on Ireland

Michel Barnier is pictured in Brussels in 2014 | Image: © European Union

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator has said he will pay particular attention to Ireland as negotiations with the UK get underway.

This morning, Michel Barnier has held his first press conference since British Prime Minister Theresa May triggered the Brexit process.

He said the first phase of the negotiations will focus on the Irish border, the status of expat citizens and the financial settlement between Britain and the EU.

Mr Barnier said Ireland will be to the forefront as he begins his work – adding that he will soon travel to Dublin:

“Our recommendations show where we want to land when we conclude the first phase of negotiations - notably on citizen’s rights, the financial settlement and the new external borders,” he said.

“I will pay great attention to the situation in Ireland and I will go to Ireland next week.”

It comes after EU leaders committed to protecting Ireland’s interests during the negotiations - and guaranteed that Northern Ireland can automatically rejoin the bloc in the event of Irish reunification.

Draft negotiating mandate

In his speech this afternoon, Mr Barnier warned that the negotiations will not be concluded quickly and painlessly.

“Some have created the illusion that Brexit would have no material impact on our lives or that negotiations can be concluded quickly and painlessly,” he said. “This is not the case.”

"We need sound solutions, we need legal precision and this will take time."

It comes amid reports Britain could be hit with a €100bn "divorce bill" - a sharp increase on previous estimates of €60bn.

Britain’s Brexit Secretary David Davis has rejected suggestions the bill will be that high, saying Brussels will only get what it is legally owed.

Mr Barnier insisted that "there is no Brexit bill" and said the financial settlement was not a punishment for the UK leaving the bloc - but rather a "settling of accounts."

Negotiating atmosphere

The European Parliament's chief Brexit negotiator earlier admitted the "climate" around the talks is "not good."

Guy Verhofstadt said he was not surprised there had been a "building up of pressure," but added he was confident the tensions of recent days would not derail negotiations.

He said: "But I'm not so surprised by what is happening; it happens always before the start of a negotiation.

"It's the building up of pressure from both sides let's be honest.

"That won't change I think until 9th June - the day the negotiations can really start. I'm not so much worried about that."

The recommendations unveiled by Mr Barnier today are based on guidelines agreed at Saturday's summit of the 27 remaining EU member states.

European commissioners formally adopted the recommendations this morning.