To kick the Brexit negotiations off, David Davis and Michel Barnier exchanged mountain-themed gifts, of a hiking book and walking stick. Given that the EU’s chief negotiator previously warned Brexit would be a ‘steep and a rocky’ path, the choice seemed apt.
Although the Brexit secretary said he had been encouraged by the constructive approach both sides had taken, the joint press conference hinted at the difficulties ahead. Barnier said that while it was not about ‘punishment’ or ‘revenge’, the consequences of the UK’s decision to leave the EU were ‘substantial’ and ought not to be underestimated.
The EU appear to have claimed the first victory of the talks. Davis had been insistent that the UK would start talks on a future trade deal at the same time as discussing the Brexit divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals, but this is not to be. Instead, trade talks will only begin once the EU 27 decide enough progress has been made on the other issues. For his part, Davis rejected suggestions that he had caved in to EU demands, insisting what matters is how the talks end, not how they start. Given that the talks have begun with a win for the EU, the Brexit Secretary will be hoping that this holds true.