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German lobby calls for fast Brexit deal on trade

20 June 2017

British officials charged with negotiating the first departure of a country from the European Union were in Brussels on Monday to kick off the most consequential series of talks for the United Kingdom since the end of World War II. But the disastrous outcome of the June 8 snap election, which left her without a majority in the House of Commons, has raised doubts over whether she will even be able to see the two-year process through.

"The clock is ticking", European Union chief negotiator Michel Barnier told a joint news conference with Davis, adding that an orderly withdrawal was essential for both Britain and the EU.

Davis said he hopes to agree "a deal like no other in history".

Davis, taking up the historical theme, quoted British wartime leader Winston Churchill. "I am certainly a determined optimist". He said that the Conservatives" policies were "proposals that we will now have to look at again in the light of the general election result'.

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"An overly blinkered approach focused on simply cutting immigration to tens of thousands and focusing only on high skilled employees could leave employers high and dry, especially those who rely on European Union migrants to fill low-skilled jobs", Davies said.

Both men said they had spent a great deal of time discussing the question of Northern Ireland where all parties seek to uphold the free border.

Only when "sufficient, concrete progress" on the first phase has been made will Mr Barnier recommend to the European Council that the negotiations can enter the next stage, taking in the future trading relationship, with that recommendation possibly coming at October's summit of EU leaders. "We must first tackle the uncertainties caused by Brexit, first for citizens but also for the beneficiaries of European Union policies and for the impact on borders, in particular Ireland".

Davis, a prominent tough-talking figure in the "Leave" campaign, sounded a positive note, saying that while there would "undoubtedly be challenging times ahead" he wanted a good relationship with the EU. For the officials sitting down on Monday, at least on the European Union side, a major worry is Britain crashing out into a limbo, with no deal. May, whose future is uncertain after she lost her Conservative majority in an election this month, has insisted that trade talks start immediately and run in parallel.

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German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told Sunday's Welt am Sonntag newspaper that "maybe there is now a chance to achieve a so-called "soft Brexit.'" But he said staying in the single market would require Britain to accept European Union workers" freedom of movement.

The bloc has expanded steadily since first formed as the European Economic Community in 1957 by France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg.

But he said that Monday morning's terror attack in London and the devastating fires in Portugal reminded him that "there is more that unites us than divides us".

Davis was heartened by the spirit of the talks, during which the negotiators, both interested in mountaineering, exchanged a walking stick and a hiking book.

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German lobby calls for fast Brexit deal on trade