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5 things we learned on the first day of Brexit negotiations

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Negotiators enjoyed a very European lunch.

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.

Here’s what we learned on day one.

1. They’re doing things literally

EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier, right, and British Secretary of State David Davis
Davis and Barnier (Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP)

Both Davis and Barnier appeared to acknowledge they have a mountain to climb in the talks – by giving each other hiking-related gifts.

Davis gave Brussels’ chief negotiator a book on mountaineering – an account of a French expedition to the Himalayas – while Barnier presented Davis with a traditional carved wood hiking stick from his home region of Savoie.

A UK source said: “Both gifts reflected their shared love of climbing and mountaineering.”

With both men seemingly on the same wavelength, it could be a good sign for negotiations.

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2. They had a very European lunch

Red mullet (AlexPro9500/Getty Images)
This is not the red mullet they ate (AlexPro9500/Getty Images)

Davis and Bernier will be meeting monthly from now on, so it’s only right the two men get to know each other properly. A working lunch probably helped that.

They were joined by senior aides as they tucked into Belgian asparagus with Vinaigrette, red mullet with vegetables and fondant potatoes, vacherin (meringue cake) with wild strawberries, mocha coffee and cakes.

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No steak and kidney pie? Davis appears to have lost the first battle.

3. The lack of diversity in the UK’s negotiation team has been criticised

The British negotiating team is seen on the far side (Emmanuel Dunand/AP)
The British negotiating team is seen on the far side (Emmanuel Dunand/AP)

Davis was flanked at the negotiating table by Olly Robbins, the senior civil servant at the Department for Exiting the European Union, and Sir Tim Barrow, the UK’s ambassador to the EU.

Other official at the table included Glynn Williams – director general at the Home Office, Mark Bowman – director general, international finance at HM Treasury, Simon Case – director general, UK-EU partnership team, Alex Ellis – director general at the Department for Exiting the European Union, Jane Walker – aide to David Davis and Christian Jones – press secretary to David Davis.

It’s been pointed out that the team appears to be all white, and features just one woman.

4. The priorities are EU citizens, expats and Ireland

The Brexit secretary said he vowed to seek “a deal that works in the best interests of all citizens”, with both sides agreeing they want to sort out the rights of the 3.2 million EU nationals living in the UK and the 1.2 million British expats in the EU.

Former French foreign minister Barnier said: “We must first tackle the uncertainties caused by Brexit, first for citizens but also for the beneficiaries of EU policies and for the impact on borders, in particular Ireland.”

Talks are expected to stretch around 16-18 months, with Barnier insisting on sticking to the EU’s priorities and negotiating the “divorce bill” before opening up talks on future trading.

EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier, right, and British Secretary of State David Davis
(Emmanuel Dunand/AP)

Officials have made clear that the Government still wants to negotiate its future trade relationship with the EU alongside talks on the terms for Brexit.

5. Davis really seems to believe in these talks

Davis said: “While there is a long road ahead, our destination is clear – a deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU. A deal like no other in history.”

It sounds like he’s in for a busy year-and-a-half.

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