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Initial Brexit focus will be on Ireland and border, says EU negotiator Barnier

Michel Barnier to visit Ireland

The European Commission's chief Brexit negotiator has said the initial focus for the forthcoming will be on the border in Ireland.

Michel Barnier said he will visit Ireland in the next week. He was speaking as he set out the Commission's detailed negotiating guidelines for the first phase of withdrawal talks, which are expected to begin after the June 8 general election.

Read more: EU stoking Irish nationalism to make Brexit negotiations difficult: Nigel Farage

Speaking in Brussels, Mr Barnier said the opening phase of negotiations would focus on the financial settlement, the status of expatriate citizens and the future border between the UK and EU in Ireland.

"I will pay great attention to the situation in Ireland... I will be going to Ireland next week," he said.

What he described as the "unique circumstances and challenges" of Ireland in the wake of the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement will, he said, "require flexible and imaginative solutions".

But Mr Barnier also warned that it is an "illusion" to think that the process of Britain leaving the European Union will be quick or painless.

His comments came as news reports suggested that the Commission may present the UK with a €100 billion euro "divorce bill", sharply increased from the previous estimates of €60bn.

But Britain's Brexit Secretary David Davis rejected suggestions that the UK will foot a bill on that scale, saying Brussels will only receive what it is legally owed.

Mr Davis also dismissed as "laughable" reports that Prime Minister Theresa May would be barred from negotiating with her counterparts.

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