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Barnier says Brexit trade talks ‘going well’

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European Commission’s Head of Task Force for Relations with Britain Michel Barnier speaks during a press conference at the EU headquarters in Brussels on February 25, 2020. (Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on Tuesday said trade talks had started on the right foot as officials began a three-month sprint to settle future EU-UK relations.

Each side assembled about 100 officials at a Brussels conference centre and split into nine groups for intense and detailed negotiations on a wide range of topics, with trade the thorniest issue.

“The negotiations are going well,” Barnier told reporters. “In the first phase, we are trying to see clearly, precisely, where our divergences, grey zones, convergences are.”

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Barnier and his UK counterpart David Frost officially launched the negotiations on Monday with the first round set to end on Thursday.

The next series is to take place in London and thereafter alternate between the two capitals.

The talks began just over a month after Britain officially left the EU on January 31.

A transition period runs until December 31, during which Britain trades like an EU member with no tariffs or other barriers, but must abide by European rules.

Tensions have been rife in the weeks running up to the talks as both sides dig in to their positions, stoking fears that the talks could fail.

It is assumed that both sides will determine whether the talks are worth continuing at an EU-UK summit in June.

If there is no broad trade deal, economic pain will be felt on both sides — but especially in Britain and Ireland, the EU member most dependent on trade with the UK.

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