The European Union and the United Kingdom on Monday will begin the Brexit talks, where Michel Barnier, the European Commission's Chief Negotiator and UK Brexit Secretary David Davis will negotiate the terms of London’s withdrawal from the bloc.
The talks are due to be completed before March 30, 2019. However, they could be prolonged if both London and Brussels agree to it.
The agenda of the first round of talks is set to focus on "citizens’ rights, the financial settlement, the Northern Irish border and other separation issues, as part of the sequenced approach to the talks," according to the EU Commission.
London triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and officially launched the EU withdrawal process by handing a formal letter to European Council President Donald Tusk on March 29.
Two most discussed options of how the withdrawal process will proceed are dubbed as “hard” and “soft” Brexit.
The “hard Brexit" means that the United Kingdom will lose access to the single EU market, thus not being able to benefit from the EU “four freedoms”, namely the free movement of goods, capital, services, and work force.
The scenario has been initially proposed and promoted by the ruling Conservative party. However, the Tories faced strong criticism and opposition from other parties.
In order to overcome opposition in the parliament, UK Prime Minister and the Conservatives’ leader Theresa May, called the snap election to secure more seats, but as a result, her party lost 12 instead, and the overall majority in the House of Commons, a lower house of the UK parliament.
Given the Conservatives’ diminished political influence, the scenario of the “soft Brexit,” which implies the preservation of UK's membership in the single EU market, or some other variant of compromise, is becoming likely.
WHAT TO EXPECT
In this context, both the United Kingdom and the European Union, following a period of disputes and mutual threats in regards to the terms of withdrawal, currently seem to have a much softer and more consistent position on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations.
“We are not turning our backs on Europe. It is vital that the deal we strike allows both the UK and the EU to thrive, as part of the new deep and special partnership we want with our closest allies and friends,” the UK Brexit secretary said Sunday in the light of the upcoming talks, as quoted in the UK government’s statement.
The European Union would be "amicable and firm" with the United Kingdom in Brexit talks, EU's Economic and Financial Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said on Saturday.
"On Brexit, we will be neither 'hard', nor 'soft', but amicable and firm," Moscovici told French weekly Journal du Dimanche.
The EU official added that all the possible options regarding UK-EU relations post-Brexit were on the table, including the one of "no deal."
TWO PHASES OF TALKS
The European Union's General Affairs Council envisioned a two-phased approach to the negotiations in its Brexit talks guidelines, which have been approved in May.
According to the guidelines, the first phase will focus on two main issues, namely citizens’ rights and immediate effects of the Brexit on them, as well as settlement of financial rights and obligations that were undertaken by the United Kingdom as a EU member state.
Additionally, the first phase should include discussion of the possible common approach toward third country partners and international organizations.
Finalization of the agreements on the future relations between Brussels and London is only possible after the Brexit process is concluded, but discussion of those future relations may begin during the second phase of the talks.
After both phases of negotiations are completed, the European Union and the United Kingdom will reach a withdrawal agreement, which will finalize Brexit.
However, the European Union stressed that as long as the United Kingdom remained in the bloc it was subject to all rights and obligations of a member state.