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 conclude within two years.
“I am very reassured by what the prime minister said to me today that that won’t be the case”.
Mr Barnier gave Mr Davis a hand-carved wood walking stick from his home town, Savoie in the French Alps.
Speaking as he arrived for a meeting of European Union finance ministers in Luxembourg, Mr Hammond said: “As we go into that negotiation, my clear view – and I believe the view of the majority of people in Britain – is that we should prioritise protecting jobs, protecting economic growth and protecting prosperity as we enter those negotiations and take them forward”.
As for the first negotiations round, “talks about talks” have already bared fruit with Britain and the European Union agreeing on the priorities and timetable for Brexit negotiations after the first session of talks.
European leaders have repeatedly said that Britain need not go through with its plans for divorce – although they have been tough about what a split would mean if it happens.
In an interview with the Die Welt newspaper, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel offered what was essentially an invitation for the United Kingdom to change its mind. He added: “Brexit won’t make anything better, but it will make a lot of things more hard”. But Europe is determined to set an example so that other countries will not be attracted to the idea, even if it includes leaving an open door for Britain to stay.
The issues at stake are daunting. At stake is not just Britain’s future but also Europe’s post-war political order and its place in the world which could be fatally undermined without an agreement by the March 2019 deadline.
It also would have to accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, “or at least a joint court that is staffed by Europeans and Britons” and in principle follows the ECJ’s rulings, Gabriel said.
A general election wiped out May’s parliamentary majority earlier this month and her position has been weakened further in the wake of a deadly fire in a London apartment building.
But further turmoil and a new prime minister could risk any progress that is made in the first weeks of talks if the new leader decides to take a different direction. “We want to have as broad a debate as possible”.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, who is newly influential after winning a crucial 13 seats in Scotland, has said Britain should prioritise “freedom to trade and our economic growth”.
Labour Brexit spokesman Sir Keir Starmer said Britain would leave the EU, but membership of the customs union should still be “on the table” – this membership would stop Britain from signing free trade deals with other non-EU countries. Last year’s Brexit vote came as a profound shock to Brussels against a backdrop of rising anti-EU sentiment, with many – including now U.S. President Donald Trump – predicting the bloc’s eventual break-up.
Europe’s key powerbrokers like Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron are adamant Britain can not expect to enjoy all the benefits of European Union membership from outside the bloc.
HSBC, which has 43,000 employees in Britain, said in January that it was planning to move “activities covered specifically by European financial regulation” to the EU, which would shift about 1,000 jobs out of the UK.