The Brexit negotiations had started on 19th June when David Davis and the EU’s negotiator Michel Barnier held their first meeting. It is important to recall that the European Council guidelines on Brexit negotiations as well as the Directives for the negotiation of the withdrawal agreement stress that “The main purpose of the negotiations will be to ensure the United Kingdom’s orderly withdrawal so as to reduce uncertainty and, to the extent possible, minimise disruption caused by this abrupt change.” The UK Government wanted the talks on a future trade agreement to be done in parallel with the negotiations on the withdrawal agreement. However, the European Council guidelines set out a two-phased approach to the negotiations. The main aim of the first phase that just started is to “Settle the disentanglement of the United Kingdom from the Union and from all the rights and obligations the United Kingdom derives from commitments undertaken as a Member State.” Michel Barnier reiterated “We must lift the uncertainty caused by Brexit, we want to make sure that the withdrawal of the UK happens in an orderly manner, then in a second step we will scope our future partnership.”   It seems David Davis had no option but to compromise over the schedule of negotiations. The Government has therefore agreed to conduct negotiations in two phases. Hence, as the EU wanted the terms of the withdrawal agreement would be negotiated first, namely the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU, the financial settlement, i.e. the so-called Brexit bill as well as the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The negotiations entail two separated agreements, the withdrawal agreement and an agreement on the future relationship between the UK and the EU. The last can only be formally agreed after the UK leaves the EU, when it becomes a third country, which can only happen when the withdrawal agreement enters into force or after the two years deadline. However, the EU could have agreed to run the negotiations in parallel. In fact, Article 50 allows the starting of the negotiations in parallel with the withdrawal agreement. It reads, “In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union.” This provision supports the view that the withdrawal terms shall take account of the structure of the future relationship, which should be in place before the UK leaves. The Government is right in saying that Article 50 implies that the framework of the future relationship shall be known before the conclusions of the withdrawal agreement.

Nonetheless, the EU has made clear that only when “sufficient, concrete progress” on the first phase has been made, they will move on to the negotiations on trade and the UK/EU future relationship. The European Council’s  guidelines on Brexit negotiations stressed: “The European Council will monitor progress closely and determine when sufficient progress has been achieved to allow negotiations to proceed to the next phase.” Michel Barnier, following the first round of talks, also pointed out “The European Council can then decide on whether we can show sufficient progress, or not. And if we can move to scoping the future relationship on trade and other matters.” Hence, it will be the European Council to decide “when sufficient progress has been achieved”. The EU fist wants to reach an agreement on the above mention issues and only when they get what they want they will be willing to negotiate a new relationship with the UK. Particularly, the EU leaders are very unlikely to agree on a preferential trade deal before the U.K.’s financial liabilities to the EU are settled.

David Davis and the EU’s negotiator Michel Barnier held their first meeting. They agreed on a timetable, structure and priorities for the negotiation. The negotiating groups on citizens’ rights, financial settlement, and other separation issues have already been established, and they will submit proposals to the chief negotiators. It was also agreed that the negotiating rounds would take place every four weeks and they are scheduled for 17 July, 28th August, 18th September and 9th October.