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'It has taken more time today than anything else': Ireland the hot topic on day 1 of Brexit talks

Today was the first day of Brexit negotiations between the UK and EU.

The UK's chief negotiator David Davis shakes hands with his EU counterpart Michel Barnier today.
The UK's chief negotiator David Davis shakes hands with his EU counterpart Michel Barnier today.

THE ISSUE OF Ireland, both north and south of the border, was the most talked about topic on the first day of the Brexit negotiations between the UK and the EU.

Speaking at a joint press conference, the UK’s chief negotiator David Davis and his EU counterpart Michel Barnier both said that a great deal of time had been taken up discussing what would happen on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland when Britain leaves the EU.

Davis said that “everyone understands the political sensitivities” and that there was a determination on both sides to maintain no physical border between the two countries.

It was essential not to let Brexit undermine the peace process, Davis said, as it was a cause of concern in Northern Ireland.

Barnier said that Ireland was “one of the most sensitive issues before us”. He said that the issue was brought home to him during a recent meeting with then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Barnier said that contact had been made with new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and that he would meet new Foreign Minister Simon Coveney tomorrow.

David added that it would probably take until the end of the Brexit negotiation process until a clear decision is made on issues such as the border.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Six One News, Minister Coveney said that Ireland would not sign off on a Brexit deal unless the Good Friday Agreement is protected.

He said: “That makes it very complicated, but it’s something that I will insist on being the case.”

“Best possible outcome”

Belgium EU Brexit Davis (l) and Barnier (r) Source: Virginia Mayo AP/Press Association Images

Both negotiators made opening statements stressing that both sides would work together throughout the process to ensure the best possible outcome for the UK and the EU.

“There will be no hostility,” Barnier said. Davis, meanwhile, said that he had been encouraged by the “constructive approach” that both sides had taken.

Another main topic of discussion was the living rights of UK citizens living in the EU, and those of EU citizens living in the UK.

“There was much common ground” on this topic according to Davis.

My first priority is to provide certainty for UK citizens. Michel shares that aspiration too.

An offer will be made by Prime Minister Theresa May at an upcoming EU summit on the rights of European citizens living in the UK, David added.

The pair agreed to a timeline that would be followed for the discussions, and a number of focus groups had been set up to iron out the details across a number of sectors.

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