UK's Hammond says economy should be priority in Brexit talks


Mr Hammond said: "My clear view, and I believe the view of the majority of people in Britain, is that we should prioritise protecting jobs, protecting economic growth, protecting prosperity as we enter those negotiations and take them forward".

Mr Hammond's remarks will be seen as a bid to soften the terms of Britain's exit, 72 hours before formal talks begin on Monday.

That the British were ready to break negotiations down on the lines of priorities identified by Brussels implied, he said, a willingness to start a first phase of divorce talks before moving on next year to a second phase on the new free trade relationship May wants - a "sequencing" London has disputed.

May gambled that a strong election win, as forecast by some pollsters, would boost her majority in the House of Commons in time for the Brexit talks, but instead, her party surrendered 13 seats in the lower chamber. Some political leaders in Northern Ireland fear a tie-up between the two could unsettle politics in Britain's smallest province where pro-British unionists share power with Irish nationalists.

Philip Hammond, Britain's finance minister, says protecting the British economy should be the main goal of upcoming negotiations over the country's exit from the European Union. Negotiations are due to start on Monday.

The DUP, under Mrs Foster, is close to striking a deal with the Conservatives that would allow a beleaguered Theresa May to form a minority government in London.

"If the government cannot even secure a deal with the DUP, how on earth can they get a deal with the European Union?" asked MP Alistair Carmichael.

"Theresa May must immediately create a cross-party joint Cabinet committee to negotiate Brexit".

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The prospect of Brexit has sent a wave of concern through Britain's business sector.

HSBC, which has 43,000 employees in Britain, said in January that it was planning to move "activities covered specifically by European financial regulation" to the EU, which would shift about 1,000 jobs out of the UK.

A spokesman for his Department for Exiting the European Union said Britain had been "crystal clear" about its approach.

However, a soft Brexit would be a "daft" option, a political analyst told CNBC on Wednesday.

"What everyone is waiting for is for the United Kingdom to say what its priorities are and where it is willing to compromise", she told reporters at a meeting of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, the third largest political group in the European Parliament.

But her vulnerability at home means that her plan to leave the EU's lucrative single market and customs union in order to impose strict limits on immigration is under intense scrutiny.

"In my experience recently, businesses that look over the garden fence have gone: "Hmm, (the) grass is not quite as dark and unforgiving as you might expect", Andrew told the BBC.