Hard work begins Monday, says Brexit minister

Britain to hold special two-year parliament session to tackle Brexit

Britain''s Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in central London. Image Source Reuters

After nearly a year of waffling, Britain on Monday finally opens negotiations with its European Union counterparts about leaving the bloc, with the final outcome, due in 2019, as important as it now seems unpredictable.

Brexit minister David Davis will travel to Brussels to meet Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, to kick off hugely complex withdrawal negotiations that are expected to last less than two years.

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

Sidelined for months by his boss Theresa May, Britain's finance minister Philip Hammond has returned to the political frontline, criticizing the prime minister over her recent election campaign and calling for pragmatism in Brexit talks that begin on Monday.

Demonstrators hold placards and chant during an anti-Conservative Party Leader and Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) protest on Whitehall, opposite the entrance to Downing Street on Saturday.

It means Her Majesty, who will officially open this parliament on Wednesday, will not introduce the government's legislative programme in 2018. May wants to negotiate the divorce and the future trading relationship before Britain leaves, followed by what she calls a phased implementation process to give business time to prepare for the impact of Brexit. But the government will double the length of the session to let lawmakers debate Britain's approach to Brexit without interruption. Some Conservatives have called for a more inclusive approach that would include opposition parties as well as stronger voices from Scotland and Northern Ireland, where a majority of voters backed Britain to stay in the EU.

These include the thorny issues of Britain's estimated 100-billion-euro ($112 billion) exit bill, the rights of European Union citizens living in Britain, and the fate of the border in Northern Ireland.

Davis stuck to May's script on Monday, saying without qualification that Britain would be leaving Europe's single market and its customs union.

Reflecting on Britain's longtime European Union membership, Davis says that "there is more that unites us than divides us" despite the June 23, 2016 referendum in which Britain made a decision to break away from the 27 other member nations.

But he warned that "we need to get there via a slope, not via a cliff edge".

Solving the vexed question of keeping the peace and an open border between the United Kingdom province of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic will also be an urgent priority in the talks, Barnier and Davis agreed.

In carefully choreographed talks that even saw the two men exchange mountaineering gifts, they agreed to discuss divorce issues before negotiations on a future trade deal can start.

Ahead of his arrival in Brussels, U.K. negotiator David Davis says "there should be no doubt" about British strategy.

"The question is not whether we are leaving the customs union, the question is what do we put in its place in order to deliver the objectives which the prime minister set out", he told the BBC's Andrew Marr show. Businesses hate uncertainty. But a lot of people do seem prepared to bear with us and see how things turn out.

THE Queen's Speech will be ditched next year to allow parliament more time to scrutinise new Brexit laws.

A year after Britons shocked the continent by voting on June 23 to cut loose from their main export market, new debate within Prime Minister Theresa May's cabinet on precisely what kind of trading relationship to pursue has perplexed European Union leaders, who warn time is tight to agree terms before Britain leaves in 2019.

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