DAVID Davis has been accused of ceding an early victory to Brussels by performing a “humiliating U-turn” after agreeing to its sequencing timetable for the Brexit talks.

 

The secretary of state for Britain’s withdrawal had initially suggested that negotiations on a future trade deal could be sequenced alongside other issues but he abandoned this gambit, meaning that the talks with the EU27 will now focus initially on the UK’s divorce bill, the rights of EU nationals and the border issue with Ireland.

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Mr Davis rejected the suggestion this amounted to a climbdown by the UK, arguing that trade negotiations would take place in parallel with those on the arrangements for withdrawal at a later stage.

 

He explained that Theresa May, the Prime Minister, would brief fellow EU leaders at a summit on Thursday on the UK's approach to the rights of expatriate citizens, which will be set out in detail in a paper on Monday.

 

But his political opponents argued that it was clear Brussels had won the first round in the Brexit talks.

 

“David Davis said the row of the summer would be over the sequencing of Brexit talks and, one day in, he has capitulated,” declared Tim Farron.

 

“The man is a joker. Despite the Government’s posturing, the EU was clear today it has not made a single concession to David Davis. He has been utterly humiliated,” added the Liberal Democrat leader.

 

At the first day of talks in the Belgian capital, roughly a year after the UK's Brexit referendum, Mr Barnier made clear they would proceed according to the timetable set by the EU, under which progress on the terms of withdrawal must be made before any discussions on a future trading relationship.

 

Speaking alongside Mr Davis at a Brussels press conference, he said: "For both the European Union and the United Kingdom, a fair deal is possible and far better than no deal…

 

"That's why we will work all the time with the UK and never against the UK. There will be no hostility on my side. I will display a constructive attitude firmly based on the interests and support of the 27."

 

But the Brussels chief negotiator also made clear he was not planning on giving ground to Britain.

 

“I am not in a frame of mind to make concessions or ask for concessions. It’s not about punishment, it is not about revenge.”

 

Saying the process was about unravelling “43 years of patiently-built relations,” Mr Barnier stressed: “I will do all I can to put emotion to one side and stick to the facts, the figures, and the legal basis, and work with the United Kingdom to find an agreement in that frame of mind.”

 

On the Brexit bill, he did not put a figure on the settlement, estimated by some in Brussels to be as much as £88 billion or 100 billion euros but he made clear that only when the EU27 were satisfied that sufficient progress had been made on this issue, that the talks could move on to the future trade relationship.

 

Mr Davis said that while there was a long way to go – a conclusion is due by March 2019 - the negotiating teams had got off to a “promising start; we have taken the first, critical steps together".

 

He characterised the first discussions as "very productive" and added: "We have laid a solid foundation for future discussions with an ambitious but eminently achievable timetable.

 

"It was clear from the opening that both of us want to achieve the best possible outcome and the strongest possible partnership. One that works for the UK and for the EU. And we agreed that we stand a much greater chance of success if our teams work together as that's been demonstrated today," added the Brexit secretary.

 

Mr Davis and Mr Barnier will now meet every four weeks over the coming months, bringing their teams together for a matter of days each time.