Officials gathered at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels Monday for the first day of Brexit negotiations, which will soon set the terms of the U.K.’s divorce from the European Union. While Monday’s talks aimed to establish priorities and secure a timetable for the U.K.’s departure, it refrained from any discussion of trade, per the EU’s request. To some extent, this signaled weakness on behalf of the U.K., though the nation’s Brexit secretary, David Davis, said it was “completely consistent” with the government’s objectives. “It’s not when it starts, it’s how it finishes that matters,” Davis said at a press conference.
While Monday’s negotiations offer little insight into how the deal will ultimately pan out, Davis told reporters that things were off to a “promising start.” He added that the recent terrorist attacks and Grenfell Tower fire in London were an important reminder that the U.K. and EU are on the same team. “It is at testing times like these that we are reminded of the values and resolve that we share with our closest allies in Europe,” Davis said. “There is more that unites us than divides us.”
In a symbol of this unity, Davis exchanged gifts with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michael Barnier, before negotiations began. While Barnier seemed to agree that collaboration was necessary, he displayed a more tempered optimism. “I will do all I can to put emotion to one side and stick to the facts, the figures, and the legal basis,” Barnier told reporters, arguing that a “fair deal” was “far better than no deal.” Still, he said, any agreement between the EU and U.K. would have “substantial” consequences. “We must lift the uncertainty caused by Brexit,” Barnier added.