Philip Hammond to prioritise economic prosperity in Brexit talks – The Guardian

Philip Hammond to prioritise economic prosperity in Brexit talks – The Guardian

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The British government will prioritise the economy and jobs in the Brexit negotiations beginning next week, Philip Hammond has said, in remarks that will be seen as a clear signal of his desire for a soft Brexit.

The chancellor said the British negotiating team would be open to ideas from their counterparts in Brussels as to how best to maintain economic prosperity ahead of the opening of negotiations between the EU and the UK on Monday.

Hammond is reportedly campaigning within the cabinet for Theresa May to U-turn on her pledge to take the UK out of the customs union. The Treasury is said to be in “street-fighting mode” and confident that it will win support from Damian Green, the prime minister’s newly appointed deputy.

Speaking as he arrived in Brussels ahead of a meeting of EU finance ministers, Hammond said the prime minister’s pledges to take the UK out of the single market and the customs union remained the “broad principles” of the government’s position going into the talks. He added, however, that the UK’s negotiating team would take “a pragmatic approach, trying to find a solution that works” both for the UK and remaining EU members.

“We are just about to start the negotiation. We set out very clearly our desired outcome in the prime minister’s Lancaster House speech and in the article 50 letter that we’ve sent,” he said.

“But it is a negotiation. And as we go into that negotiation, my clear view and I believe the view of the majority of people in Britain is we should prioritise protecting jobs, protecting economic growth and protecting prosperity as we enter those negotiation and taking them forward.”

The Brexit secretary, David Davis, and the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, along with officials, will sit down for the first time to open the formal talks at 11am Brussels time on Monday

Barnier and Davis will then have an early working lunch, before officials spend two-and-a-half hours in working groups scoping out how the future negotiations will run.

The officials corrdinating the negotiations, Sabine Weyand, who is the European commission’s deputy chief negotiator, and Olly Robbins, the permanent secretary at the Department for Exiting the EU will then meet in the afternoon. A closing session between Barnier and Davis will start at 5.30pm.

The start of talks will begin on Monday despite the government not yet being confident that it has a deal with the Democratic Unionist party that would enable it to govern, after the prime minster lost her 17-seat majority in the general election.

The Queen’s speech, which was also due to take place on Monday, has been delayed until Wednesday to give those negotiations further time to come to fruition. The government is yet to offer the EU any documents detailing its negotiating stance on citizens’ rights, despite claims that it is preparing a “generous offer”.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times has claimed that EU diplomats representing the 27 member states were told at a recent briefing from the European commission that rather than demand €100bn (£87bn) in the divorce bill as had been initially suggested, a more realistic settlement could be €40bn.

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