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Brexit talks with European Commission to begin on Monday

18 June 2017

Philip Hammond, Britain's finance minister, says protecting the British economy should be the main goal of upcoming negotiations over the country's exit from the European Union. "My clear view, and I believe the view of the majority of people in Britain, is we should prioritise protecting jobs, protecting economic growth and protecting prosperity", he said, in an apparently open challenge to hardline Brexiteers.

He wouldn't be drawn on whether he supported Britain's continued membership in the single market and said May's minority government will negotiate in a "pragmatic" manner, striving for a solution that works for both sides.

It's the first time a country has left the European Union so the negotiators — led by former French government minister and European Union commissioner Michel Barnier and Britain's David Davis — will also be navigating uncharted waters.

May's ruling Conservative party is split more than ever between an anti-EU wing that seeks a radical break from the bloc, and moderates who insist on maintaining close trade ties with Europe.

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After a tumultuous week that pitched Britain into its deepest political crisis since the Brexit referendum a year ago, May's future was uncertain due to her botched gamble on a snap election and a muted response to a deadly fire in London.

A spokesman for his Department for Exiting the European Union said Britain had been "crystal clear" about its approach.

Mr Hammond had been due to give at speech at Mansion House in the City of London on Thursday, and there had been speculation he would set out his vision for a "soft" Brexit - which could mean the United Kingdom retaining closer ties to the single market and possibly remaining within the customs union.

"I'm not going to give a blow by blow account of how we propose to take that discussion forward", he said. "The withdrawal and future are intimately linked". "The withdrawal and future are intimately linked".

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The announcement was agreed on Thursday between Brexit minister David Davis and the European Commission's chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

Mrs May had hoped the general election would increase her Commons majority before the start of talks - but it created a hung Parliament, and she is seeking the DUP's backing to win key votes.

Hammond was expected to make the case for a so-called "softer" Brexit, which prioritizes economic considerations over limiting immigration.

"It is indeed our understanding that the agenda of the first negotiation round consists of issues related to the first phase of negotiations, which means citizens, money, Northern Ireland and some other exit-related questions", one diplomat said.

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Brexit talks with European Commission to begin on Monday