EU says UK negotiator’s early Brexit ‘not a problem’

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British Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Brexit Minister) David Davis (L) and European Union Chief Negotiator in charge of Brexit negotiations with Britain Michel Barnier (R) speak during a meeting at the European Union Commission headquarter in Brussels, July 17, 2017./ AFP PHOTO / THIERRY CHARLIER

The European Union on Tuesday played down the departure of Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator David Davis from crucial talks in Brussels after just a few hours, saying it was “not a problem.”

Davis was criticised in some British media after heading home to London before lunch following a photo opportunity and a brief chat with his opposite number Michel Barnier on Monday, the first of four days of negotiations.

The British Brexit minister and his team also attracted ridicule on social media after turning up to the talks empty handed, while Barnier and his EU team had large files in front of them on the negotiating table.

“No, we do not consider this as a problem and we are not concerned about it. The chief negotiators don’t have to be present all the time,” European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said.

“These are well-structured talks over a week, so work is ongoing and we do not feel concerned about this.”

British officials said Davis had to attend to parliamentary business back in London and that he is expected to return on Thursday to review the progress of the negotiations with Barnier, and probably give a press conference.

Schinas declined to give further details on the second formal round of talks, which are dealing with issues about Britain’s withdrawal including its exit bill, the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and the border in Northern Ireland.

Brussels says these must be sorted out before talks can begin on a future EU-UK trade deal and on relations after Britain leaves the bloc, which is expected to happen in March 2019.

“The Article 50 negotiations are now in the hands of the divorce lawyers. These are the people who do the job, and we have a very good divorce lawyer in the shape of Michel Barnier and the team,” Schinas said.

He added that the Commission “don’t feel we have been invaded” by a reported 98 British negotiators who have come to Brussels for the talks.

“We welcome our negotiating partners, and talks are ongoing as we speak,” he said.

“I understand the interest to have a soundbite every day, I will resist that temptation,” he added, saying that there would be no formal update until Thursday.

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