German minister sees hope of 'soft' Brexit, with conditions

Failure to reach Brexit deal would be very bad for Britain warns Chancellor

Britain and the European Union have finally began formal Brexit negotiations, vowing overnight to work constructively for a deal despite disarray in London over whether to go for a "hard" or "soft" divorce.

The European Union's Michel Barnier said he hoped the talks, starting nearly a year to the day after a British referendum vote to leave the EU, would establish a timetable for the negotiations.

If no exit agreement is reached by March 2019, Britain will face the prospect of trading under higher tariffs and more red tape.

According to reports from Press Association (PA), a spokesperson for the UK's Department for Exiting the European Union (EU) said the first aim was to move ahead on securing the rights of EU citizens in the United Kingdom and UK citizens living in the EU and "end the anxiety facing four million citizens". European Union negotiators need no longer be as anxious that Britain's departure might inspire others to follow.

Formal talks to agree a host of issues around the terms of the UK's departure from the bloc will begin on Monday, nearly a year to the day after the referendum vote to leave. "It will mean we can work together to deliver a successful Brexit deal and a strong social legislative programme that delivers justice and opportunity to everyone".

"We are starting this negotiation in a positive and constructive tone", Davis said in comments to reporters from the European Commission's Berlaymont building headquarters.

Jean-Claude Juncker: The European Commission president will not be directly involved in talks and his spokesman has said he is unlikely to spend more than half an hour a week on Brexit.

Merkel spoke after meeting with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, who also stressed the 27 European Union countries' unity.

Officials on both sides play down expectations for what can be achieved in one day.

Anxious by immigration and loss of sovereignty, Britain voted a year ago to end its four-decades-old membership of the 28-country bloc - the first state ever to do so - in a shock referendum result.

But as Europe grows more confident in its future following the election victory in France of pro-E.U. 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.

Brexit negotiations start Monday, after British Prime Minister Theresa May lost her parliamentary majority in an election meant to strengthen her hand.

Britain now appears to have given in on the EU's insistence that the negotiations first focus on three key divorce issues, before moving on to the future EU-UK relationship and a possible trade deal.

"Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed", he said, using a line also expressed by the EU.

So far she has balanced the two by having ministers from both wings in her top team or cabinet, and by carefully controlling any message on her approach to Brexit, fearful she could give away her hand to European Union negotiators.

Yet many in Brussels fear that London has no real strategy, with May under pressure at home, still trying to close a deal with a conservative Northern Ireland party to stay in power, and facing criticism for her handling of the aftermath of a devastating tower block fire.

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.

Barnier has warned that the negotiations must be wrapped up by October 2018 to allow time for all parties to ratify a final accord by March 2019.

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