That is the number of days between now and the end of the 2 year Article 50 notice period, at which point the United Kingdom would cease to be a member of the European Union.
Whether you greet that number with joy, sorrow, or frustration that “we haven’t got on with it yet” after almost a year (360 days) since the referendum, today marks a seminal landmark within the withdrawal process as both sides formally met for the first time to discuss exit terms.
Clearly the task of unwinding the 16,240 consecutive days involvement the UK has had with the European Union, dating back to 1 January 1973 when it joined the then European Communities under Edward Heath’s Conservative party, will be no easy matter but you have to start somewhere.
Meeting in Brussels, David Davies leading on behalf of team UK and Michel Barnier for team EU held a day of talks that included stage managed photo opportunities, gift exchanging (below) and a three course private lunch featuring red mullet with vegetables and fondant potatoes.
David Davis and Michel Barnier exchange gifts. Davis received a traditional walking stick, hand carved in Savoie, Barnier’s home town. Barnier received in return the mountaineering book Regards vers Annapurna, signed by Marcel Ichac one of tits two authors
If that doesn’t seem like a hard enough day’s work, the two gentleman also somehow managed to find the time to get down to some actual negotiating, although today’s talks were more of a ‘talk about the talks’ session with the main focus on agreeing timings and structure meaning a lot of the meatier items up for discussion will follow as the two look to meet every 28 days (4 weeks) from here on in.
As the two men then engaged in a press conference to inform us of how their gruelling day went, the suggestion was that team EU have taken charge of the opening exchanges.
The furious briefing in the press prior to talks was that the UK wished to talk trade at the same time as negotiating exit matters such it’s bill for leaving the EU, rumoured to be anything between €50-100 million.
The EU’s response to this then was a firm “non” and judging by the time table agreed and published after today’s talks, it looks like the UK has had to conceded on its wishes.
The two sides face off (photo) / Link to the agreed terms of reference (body)
That this has happened is probably not a surprise on two points and unlikely to count for much in the long run.
Firstly, it’s hard not to think the UK starts from a weaker position than it had intended given Theresa May’s rather embarrassing election miscalculation 11 days ago, costing her 13 on her own MPs and 71 days on the ticking Article 50 clock in the process.
But secondly, it probably wouldn’t have been wise for team UK to go into the first round of negotiations all guns blazing. Better to keep your powder dry for when it really matters, you might consider, rather than make it “the fight of the summer”.
The one bit of news to possibly take away from today was David Davis’ reaffirmation that the control of laws and borders remained a priority, meaning the UK would be exiting the single market and customs union.
But even this should be met with appropriate caution, given the present fragility of the UK economy and Conservative Party, both factors that could lead the UK to change its priorities at this early stage of negotiations.
So with day 1 concluded day, apart from noting a small victory for the EU in terms of securing the way it wants to do talks, we haven’t learned a great deal…
…just another 648 days to go!