So it begins: Britain kicks off Brexit negotiations with EU

The EU's Michel Barnier said he hoped the talks - starting nearly a year to the day after a British referendum vote to leave the EU - would establish a timetable for the negotiations.

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.

EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier, right, and British Secretary of State David Davis, second left, participate with their teams in a round table meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels on Monday, June 19, 2017. EU leaders want May to lay off threats that she would walk out and leave a chaotic legal limbo for all Europeans.

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

Instead the early part of the talks will be focused on thorny matters such as the bill the European Union wants the pay and the rights its citizens will enjoy in Britain after Brexit.

The UK Government said in a press release that Davis is "confident that he can get a positive outcome and secure a new deep and special partnership with the European Union".

"But it has nothing to do with the negotiations in the House of Commons", he said in reference to the ongoing government-forming talks in London.

Despite the sudden - and seemingly terminal - decline in Theresa May's reputation among the United Kingdom electorate, one poll shows she retains support to see the Brexit talks through. "That will be in our mutual interest, but we 27 will formulate our interests very clearly and hopefully together".

Britons shocked themselves and their neighbours by voting on June 23 a year ago to cut loose from their main trading partner.

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May officially triggered the two-year Brexit process in March when she was riding high in opinion polls, and called for fresh elections shortly afterwards to shore up her mandate for a tough Brexit stance.

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 Prime Minister Theresa May lost her overall majority in snap elections that raised questions about the stability of the government the European Union faces.

May has said she is open to some kind of association agreement with the customs union and wants to avoid any so-called "cliff-edge" into uncertain trading conditions, but she has also said Britain must be able to control immigration - something it can not do while a member of the EU.

Those issues are Britain's exit bill, estimated by Brussels at around 100 billion euros ($112 billion), the rights of three million European Union nationals living in Britain and one million Britons on the continent, and the status of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

"The best way we can spend this week is to rebuild trust", rather than tackle the big hard issues right at the start, another European source said.

Macron, a committed pro-EU leader and ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, easily won French legislative elections on Sunday, cementing his power base.

The Government is being urged to put the economy first and secure a transitional Brexit deal with the EU to ensure tariff-free access to European markets.

While "Brexiteers" have strongly backed May's proposed clean break with the single market and customs union, finance minister Philip Hammond and others have this month echoed calls by businesses for less of a "hard Brexit" and retaining closer customs ties.

But he warned that "we need to get there via a slope, not via a cliff edge".

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