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Gifts show Brexit will be a mountain to climb

© AFP | Britain's Brexit Minister David Davis (left) and the EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier shake hands before holding formal talks in Brussels, on June 19, 2017

BRUSSELS (AFP) - 

Britain and the EU may see the world differently, but the gifts their negotiators exchanged Monday showed they agree Brexit will be a mountain to climb.

Michel Barnier, the French negotiator for the European Union, and Britain's Brexit envoy David Davis marked the formal start of negotiations by, effectively, telling each other to take a hike.

Barnier, 66, who hails from France's Savoie region in the Alps and is a keen rambler, gave Davis a hiking stick as they met at the European Commission in Brussels.

In return, Davis, 68, also a mountain lover and a former reservist in the elite SAS unit, gave Barnier a signed first edition of "Regards vers Annapurna", a classic French mountaineering book, signed by photographer Marcel Ichac.

Britain's Department of State for Exiting the EU tweeted a picture of a smiling Davis and a straight-faced Barnier "after exchanging mountaineering gifts,".

The two men know each other from days when both were Europe ministers.

Barnier had said on Twitter that he spent the weekend before the opening of what promises to be nearly two years of uphill negotiations trekking in his beloved Alps.

"Back to my home of Savoie to regain the strength and energy required for big hikes..." he wrote, attaching a photo of alpine peaks and a lake.

Asked how Davis spent his weekend, a spokesman said: "He spent it working in his constituency" in Yorkshire, north England.

Back in May, Barnier explicitly compared the Brexit process to hiking as he described a conversation with British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Barnier said it was a "common passion" with May, who made her ill-fated decision to call recent elections while she was rambling in Wales.

"What do you learn as a rule when you like to hike in the mountains? You learn to put one foot in front of the other, because the path can be steep. You learn to pay attention to landslides and rocks that can fall. You learn to save your breath because the path is long. And you must always keep your eyes on the summit," he said.

Given the stifling heat in Brussels, the lunch served to Barnier, Davis and their teams thankfully avoided heavy cheese fondue or raclette.

Instead they were served Belgian asparagus, followed by red mullet with vegetables and fondant potatoes, finished off with meringue cake, officials said.

© 2017 AFP