And so it begins: Brexit talks to focus 1st on orderly exit

The EU and Britain on Monday launched the long-awaited Brexit talks at European Commission's headquarters in Brussels, almost one year after Britain voted to leave the bloc by a narrow margin on June 23, 2016.

After nearly a year of waffling, Britain finally opens negotiations with its European Union counterparts on Monday about leaving the bloc.

"Both for the European Union and the UK, a fair deal is possible, and far better than no deal, that is what I say to David today, that is why we will work all the time with the UK and never against the UK", Michel Barnier said at a joint press conference with his British counterpart David Davis, after wrapping up the opening salvo of the Brexit talks in Brussels.

These include the thorny issues of Britain's estimated 100-billion-euro ($112 billion) exit bill, the rights of European Union citizens living in Britain, and the fate of the border in Northern Ireland.

Mr Barnier spoke at a press conference after the first day to confirm that settling priority issues would build "trust on which to negotiate a new relationship".

An early election this month, in which British Prime Minister Theresa May lost her majority, only added to the problems, AP reported.

Both sides acknowledged the clock was ticking, with the date for the UK's departure from the European Union fixed for March 2019.

"There is more that unites us than divides us".

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz says: "If we don't succeed both sides will lose".

The Brexit Secretary said: "The position hasn't changed". The move backfired, May lost her Conservative majority in the vote and has been fending off critics of her leadership ever since.

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The EU had long insisted that trade talks could not begin until there was an outline of the order of divorce: the Brexit bill, EU citizens' rights and the Irish border.

Threats by Britain to walk away without a deal have also anxious European capitals.

A terms-of-reference document agreed by Mr Barnier and Mr Davis said further talks would be held in the weeks starting on July 17, Aug 28, Sept 18 and Oct 9.

Mr Davis said he was optimistic about the process and the British appeared upbeat about the prospects of trade talks beginning before the final details of divorce proceedings had been agreed.

European Commission official Mr Barnier warned the United Kingdom faced "substantial" consequences as a result of Brexit but insisted it was "not about punishment" or revenge.

In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasised the unity of the remaining 27 European Union countries, who have been alarmed in recent weeks by May's threats to walk out of the talks.

"In the first step, the negotiation rounds will be broken down into three groups - citizen rights, the single financial settlement, and other separation issues".

"I would like us to get a good agreement that is in both sides' interests".

"So now that the negotiations are started we are determined to get on with the jobs and deliver that certainty as soon as possible", he said. "But the 27 of us will formulate our interests very clearly and hopefully, together", Merkel said.

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