Trade deals not on agenda for looming Brexit talks

Brexit Secretary David Davis

Brexit Secretary David Davis - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Brexit talks kick off on Monday – but there won't be any talk about trade.

The Brussels talks will focus on the status of expats, the UK's 'divorce bill' and the Northern Irish border, rather than on any future trade relations with the European Union.

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.

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There was no immediate response from Davis's Department for Exiting the EU on whether this meant the UK has given up on its hopes for parallel talks to take place simultaneously on withdrawal and trade.

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

Hammond's comments are likely to be seen as a further indication that 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, Hammond 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 as we enter those negotiations and take them forward.'

The Chancellor declined to comment on whether he supported Britain's continued membership of the EU single market or customs union.

He had been due to use a high-profile speech in the City of London on Thursday night to send out a message that the Government would protect business from shocks during the Brexit process.

But his planned address, and that of Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, was cancelled because of the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy.

The agenda for the June 19 meeting was agreed by Barnier and Davis on Thursday, following preparatory 'talks about talks' this week at civil service level between the European Commission and the United Kingdom.

The Commission statement said: 'The opening of negotiations at political level next week will focus on issues related to citizens' rights, the financial settlement, the Northern Irish border and other separation issues, as part of the sequenced approach to the talks.

'Both sides will also discuss the structure of the negotiations and the issues that need to be addressed over the coming months.'

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