Britain kicks off its formal European Union exit talks Monday, nearly a year after the country voted to leave the bloc, amid a backdrop of domestic political chaos, a weakening economy, a spate of deadly terrorist attacks and simmering social tensions following a fatal fire in a government-run housing project.
David Davis, the country's top EU negotiator, will meet with his opposite number, Michel Barnier, in Brussels to begin what is expected to be a long and arduous series of talks aimed at extracting the U.K. from more than 40 years of political and economic ties with the European Union over the next two years. The two men, along with their negotiating teams, will attempt to form an agreement on Britain's financial commitments to the bloc, the so-called "Brexit Bill" before they take on the thorny issue of the U.K.'s trade relationship once it leaves the EU in 2019.
"The most important thing I think now is for us to look to the horizon," said Britain's Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, ahead of a meeting with other foreign ministers in Luxembourg "Think about the future, and think about the new partnership, the deep and special partnership that we want to build with our friends."
Other issues on the agenda, at least in the near term, include establishing residential rights of more than 3 million EU citizens currently living in the United Kingdom -- and the 1 million British expats living in EU member states -- once the formal exit is complete.
However, Britain's negotiating leverage is, arguably at its weakest level in more than a decade after a shambolic snap election result for Prime Minister Theresa May, which surrendered her parliamentary majority and has left her floundering to cut a deal with lawmakers in Northern Ireland in order to stabilize her government, and the ongoing weakness of the economy in the wake of the Brexit vote.
Britain's economy grew at a paltry 0.2% in the first three months of this year, the slowest advance of any EU member state, as a 15% collapse in the pound on foreign exchange markets led to a surge in inflation and hammered consumer spending.
Last week, advisors to PIMCO, the world's biggest bond fund, warned that while the U.K. economy was "holding up well" in the wake of last year's vote to leave the EU, Brexit risks, slowing immigration and high levels of household debt could push it into recession if key changes to aren't addressed by the current government.
The political and economic uncertainty is also set against rising social and security tensions in the U.K., which saw its fourth deadly terrorist attack of the year last night after a man deliberately ploughed his van into a crowd of worshippers outside of a Mosque in north London, killing one and injuring at least ten others.
The attack followed a weekend of dangerously simmering tensions between residents of the west London Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and local government officials after a deadly fire in the Grenfell tower block killed at least 58 people and left more than 600 families homeless. The blaze was accelerated, some have said, by flammable cladding put in place in order to "decorate" the social housing development, which sits in the middle of one of Europe's richest areas. That allegation, as well as frustration with the slow pace of response from government, led hundreds of protesters to storm the local town hall and demand action.
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