The European Commission has been granted a mandate from the European Council to begin negotiations with the UK over the terms of Britain's planned exit from the European Union.
It has now been confirmed that the commission will act as the EU's negotiator in the forthcoming talks, which will determine the future relationship between the UK and Europe - in terms of trade links, defence, citizens' rights and other key issues - once Britain has left the union.
The first phase of negotiations focus on three main areas, including the approach that will be taken to safeguard the status and rights of EU citizens and their families living in the UK, as well as British citizens who have settled in European nations.
Efforts will also be made to secure an agreement on the principles of the financial settlement of the UK's obligations as an EU member, while discussing how the new external borders of the EU will be managed, with a particular focus on avoiding the imposition of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Other issues include arrangements regarding dispute settlement and the governance of the withdrawal agreement. A transparency policy for the negotiations has also been put in place to make sure that key negotiating documents drafted by EU member states, the European Council, the European Parliament, national parliaments and the British government will be released to the public.
Michel Barnier, the commission's chief negotiator for the Article 50 negotiations, said: "We are ready to sit down at the negotiating table with the UK. Our objective is to rapidly reach an agreement on the issues put forward by the council today."
It is expected that talks will be able to commence after the UK's general election on June 8th, with businesses keen to see measures put in place to ensure a continuation of open trade between the UK and Europe following Brexit.