UK, EU's historic Brexit talks commence

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The BBC has been told by European Union sources that the talks will follow the EU's preferred pattern of exit negotiations first, with the future relations between the two sides - including the free trade deal the United Kingdom is seeking - at a later date.

Davis said: "While there is a long road ahead, our destination is clear - a deep and special partnership between the United Kingdom and the EU".

"We agreed on dates, organisation, and we agreed on priorities for the negotiations", Barnier said at a joint press conference with Davis.

Anxious by mass immigration and loss of sovereignty, Britain a year ago voted to end its decades - old membership of the 28 - nation bloc in a shock referendum result.

But a week ago Mr Davis said "we will start down this process but I will have some discussions with Mr Barnier about how we progress" to trade talks.

As many political analysts have agreed, discontent in europhile Scotland and troubled Northern Ireland, which faces a new European Union border across the divided island, Brexit poses new threats to the integrity of the United Kingdom, which do not seem to visibly affect David Davis, the top British negotiator in Brussels, for whom the hard work "now begins" in his own words.

Brexit negotiations have finally begun, with Brexit Secretary David Davis acknowledging there would be would be "challenging times ahead" as he met the European Commission's chief negotiator Michel Barnier for the formal start of the talks.

Barnier said after welcoming Davis that it was important to tackle uncertainties caused by Brexit. As chief European Union negotiator Michel Barnier put it, his priority is to clear up "uncertainties caused by Brexit".

The Brussels talks began nearly a year after Britain unexpectedly voted in a referendum to leave the European Union and less than two weeks after British Prime Minister Theresa May lost her overall majority in snap elections that raised questions about the stability of the government the European Union faces.

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Davis, a prominent tough-talking figure in the "Leave" campaign, sounded a positive note too, saying "there is more that unites us than divides us". An early election this month, in which British Prime Minister Theresa May lost her Conservative majority in parliament, only added to the problems.

Barnier and Davis will have a week of negotiations each month, while the other three weeks will be used for preparations and working out the details.

At stake is not just Britain's future but also Europe's post-war political order and its place in the world which could be fatally undermined without an agreement by the March 2019 deadline.

The start of the negotiations comes as work continues across the British government to prepare Britain for life outside of the EU.

"In the first step, the negotiation rounds will be broken down into three groups: citizen rights, the single financial settlement, and other separation issues", Barnier said.

European Union leaders warned Britain could end up with a "brutal Brexit" because of Theresa May's weak government.

Merkel spoke after meeting with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, who also stressed the 27 European Union countries' unity.

We are going to talk about new borders between Ireland and Northern Ireland. We also have to find solutions to maintaining all the commitments of the Good Friday Agreement. In a tweet yesterday afternoon, he said: "Back this weekend in my countryside, Savoie, to draw the strength and energy that the long hike requires". EU leaders want May to lay off threats that she would walk out and leave a chaotic legal limbo for all Europeans.

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