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3Novices:Britain, EU kick off 'positive' Brexit talks

BRUSSELS // Britain and the European Union promised to work constructively for a Brexit deal as formal negotiations began on Monday despite disarray in London over whether to go for a "hard" or "soft" divorce.

Almost exactly a year after Britain's referendum to leave the bloc, the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier of France, welcomed his counterpart David Davis with a handshake at the European Commission in Brussels.

At stake is not just Britain's future but also Europe's postwar political order and its place in the world, which could be undermined without an agreement by the March 2019 deadline.

"We must first tackle the uncertainties caused by Brexit," Mr Barnier said, citing the rights of EU citizens in Britain and the possible impact on the open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

"I hope today we can identify priorities and a timetable that would allow me to report to the European Council [summit] later this week that we had a constructive opening of negotiations," said the former European commissioner and French foreign minister.

A key issue he did not mention was the EU's bill for Britain to leave, which Brussels estimated at €100 billion (Dh409.93bn).

Mr Davis, a prominent 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.

"There is more that unites us than divides us", Mr Davis said, referring to the latest reported terrorist attack overnight in London and the loss of lives in forest fires in Portugal.

"We launch negotiations in a positive and constructive tone, determined to build a strong and special partnership between ourselves and our European allies and friends in the future."

In Berlin, German chancellor Angela Merkel emphasised the unity of the remaining 27 EU countries, which have been alarmed in recent weeks by British prime minister Theresa May's threats to walk out of the talks.

"I would like us to get a good agreement that is in both sides' interests. But the 27 of us will formulate our interests very clearly and hopefully, together," Mrs Merkel said.

Worried by immigration and loss of sovereignty, Britons voted last year to end their country's four-decade membership in the 28-country bloc - the first nation to do so.

* Agence France-Presse
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