Trade deal off the table when Brexit talks get underway

Chancellor Philip Hammond has hinted at a softer Brexit approach. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
Chancellor Philip Hammond has hinted at a softer Brexit approach. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
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Brexit talks in Brussels on Monday will focus on the status of expats, the UK’s “divorce bill” and the Northern Ireland border, rather than on future trade relations with the European Union, it has been confirmed.

The European Commission said the one-day meeting between its chief negotiator Michel Barnier and Brexit Secretary David Davis will take place “as part of the sequenced approach to the talks” set out by the EU, which require progress to be made on withdrawal arrangements before any talks on trade can begin.

But Mr Davis insisted the UK still wants to negotiate its future trade relationship with the EU “alongside” talks on the terms for Brexit, which he said was the process set out in Article 50 of the EU treaties.

The article states that discussions on a member’s withdrawal must “take account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union”.

A spokesman for his Department for Exiting the EU said Britain had been “crystal clear” about its approach.

“Our view is that withdrawal agreement and terms of the future relationship must be agreed alongside each other,” said the spokesman.

“We are clear this is what is set out in Article 50. We believe that the withdrawal process cannot be concluded without the future relationship also being taken into account. As the EU has itself said, ‘nothing is agreed, until everything is agreed’.

“As we also said in our Article 50 letter, ‘agreeing a high-level approach to the issues arising from our withdrawal will of course be an early priority’. But the withdrawal and future are intimately linked.”

The spokesman said the UK’s “first aim” was to move ahead on securing the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU.

“We want to end the anxiety facing 4 million citizens,” he said. “That has always been our first aim and that is what we will do. That is why we are pushing ahead with negotiations on Monday.”

Chancellor Philip Hammond said the Government’s priority in the negotiations should be to protect jobs, economic growth and prosperity.

His comments are likely to be seen as a further indication he is pressing for the Government to take a “softer” line on Brexit than the immigration-driven approach previously set out by Theresa May.

Speaking as he arrived for a meeting of EU finance ministers in Luxembourg, he 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.”