• Kirsty Gregson

Brexit: The Timeline

Until the Treaty of Lisbon, it was never known how a county could leave the European Union, nobody thought it would ever happen. The UK requested that there be a specific clause for a withdrawal from the European Union before entry, and this was formulated into the Treaty of Lisbon.


Article 50, which we have all heard of by now, confirms that a member state of the European Union can withdraw from the European Union based on its own constitutional requirements. The starting point of the withdrawal process is the formal notification. This is what the interested state must deliver to the European Council – the institution that brings together the heads of state and governments of all the member states.


As soon as this notification is made, time starts ticking.


In accordance with Article 50 TEU, the withdrawing Member State has only two years to negotiate a withdrawal deal with the European Union. Put simply, you have two years, and then you are out.


The European Council has the role of outlining the principles for the subsequent negotiations when leaving the Union, this role was assigned in Article 50. The deal regulating the terms of exit must then be approved by the both the Council and the European Parliament.


So where is the UK now?


In June 2016, the fate of the UK/EU relationship was delivered, the advisory referendum indicated that 51.9% of the UK decided that they would like to leave the European Union, the remaining 48.1% wanted to stay.


The European Union were quick on their toes to respond to the results and the European Council stated that, the UK must follow the legal path in Article 50, no negotiations can take place before this, and acceptance to the Single Market would require acceptance of Free Movement of Persons.


The UK have a change in political leadership, and it appeared that Theresa May would be leading the UK out the of the negotiations with the EU. She sets out the UK’s negotiating red lines and pledges that the UK will, leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, end free movement of persons, leave the single market, and leave the customs union.

Because the referendum that based the UK’s exit of the EU was not actually legally binding, the government had to hold a vote in Parliament to trigger Article 50. Once triggered, notice was given to the EU of the intention to leave within the next two years. This formally started the Brexit process and meant that the UK and the EU could begin to negotiate their terms for the withdrawal agreements.


The EU formed a phased structure in which the negotiations would take place, this was to ensure that the exit was done properly and that EU citizens would retain their rights even after the exit. The first phase of the talks included, citizens’ rights, the financial settlement, and the Irish Boarder. Unwelcome to the thought of the EU directing the exit talks, the government attempted to resist, but to little avail and eventually they gave up.


As the government tried to get some momentum in the exit process, they found that they need to partner with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland after May lost her majority in Parliament earlier on. This relationship will be key to the later developments in the negotiations with the EU for the exit agreements. A key consideration had to be where Ireland would sit in all of this. In 2017, the UK and the EU concluded that they would include a Northern-Ireland “Backstop”, this was a kind of insurance policy aimed at guaranteeing that no matter how negotiations would go with the EU, an open border would be maintained for Ireland. The UK wanted either a comprehensive agreement on customs and trade, or a technological solution. However, they settled for a third option – a simple avoidance of a hard border.


As the UK was making “sufficient progress” in the first phase, second phase negotiations began. However, concern was still surrounding the idea of the Irish Backstop. If the backstop were triggered, Northern Ireland would remain closely tied to the EU and it would be separated from the rest of the UK by its border to the Irish Sea. Bearing in mind that Ireland has only had peace with the Good Friday Agreement since 1998, to start dividing Ireland again, understandably, creates a lot of anxiety.


In 2018, The UK delivered its first withdrawal agreement. With “many gaps” it looked as though the government would have to go back to the drawing board. 2 years after giving notice of their plan to leave and the UK government had no effective withdrawal agreement in place. To make matters worse, the Brexit Secretary (David Davis) resigns. The cause of this being May’s “Chequers deal” which Davis said was, “certainly not returning control of our laws in any real sense”, and then he bluntly resigned from his position saying that he would not be a “reluctant conscript” to the Chequers plan.


Roughly 5 months later and the UK and EU agree to a Withdrawal Agreement. This has a new version of the Backstop and moving forwards they agreed on a political declaration. All looks well for May; it is as if the bad times have blown past and she is set to lead the UK out of the EU. The European Council even endorse the Brexit deal (November 2018), this is the institution which must accept the final agreement for it to be effective.


Then it came down to the vote. The first “meaningful vote” on (January 2019) the Brexit deal is defeated by 230 votes in the Commons. The second “meaningful vote” (March 2019) is again, defeated by 149 votes. With little choice and obliged by Parliament, May requests that Britain have an Article 50 extension, once approved May has until the 12th April to get consensus in the Commons.


The third “meaningful vote” on the 29th March is defeated again, by 58 votes. When asked why, the biggest issue was the Irish Backstop. There was still a large Conservative majority who held that they would not allow the bill to pass with the Backstop as part of the agreement. But the EU had already made it clear that they would not be agreeing to any agreement where there was no Irish Backstop, or a viable alternative.


With pressure mounting in the Conservative party, May resigned as the Prime Minister and Johnson jumped in. He then vowed to leave the EU on the 31st October. Boris clearly did not hold the DUP as close as May did when he formally demanded the removal of the Backstop from the Withdrawal Agreement. This was rebuffed by the European Union leaders and left many people asking, “what on earth is next?”.


Having requested that the Irish Backstop be removed from the agreement, Boris then had to get this agreement passed in Parliament. Knowing full well that this will not happen the traditional route, Johnson requested the Queen to prorogue Parliament. This later turned out to be unlawful as Parliament would have been suspended for 5 weeks and then reconvene just 17 days before the UK was scheduled to depart from the EU, the decision was held to be an unconstitutional attempt by Boris to avoid Parliamentary scrutiny on their Brexit plans.


Buckling to pressure the government announces a new deal, there would be a Northern Ireland “border in the sea”. The Northern Ireland Protocol would replace the Irish Backstop. The Backstop would have kept the whole of the UK in a close trading relationship with the EU, thus eliminating the need for checks along the Irish Border. However, Conservatives rejected this as they were fearful that the UK would remain in this agreement for too long… Under the Northern Ireland Protocol, Northern Ireland will be able to enforce the EU’s customs rules and follow its rules on product standards. This would also make checks on goods travelling from Northern Irelands into the Republic of Ireland unnecessary. Many have questioned the logistics of this, and in 2020, we are still waiting for an answer.


In October 2019, Parliament failed to pass a timetable for the revised EU Withdrawal Bill and so the legislation is effectively paused. This gives Johnson time to organise the election that he called, and chant “Get Brexit Done”. In December, the Conservative won the election with an 80-seat majority.


At the start of 2020, Parliament finally approved a withdrawal agreement. This looks to be a good step forward. Later in January, The UK and the EU sign the withdrawal agreement. This meant that the UK agreed to the deal and Boris called it a “fantastic moment” for the country. Later, the European Parliament approved of the agreement, followed by The European Council and as a result, the UK leaves the EU. Post-Brexit transitions begin…

Negotiations started on the 2nd March, with a looming deadline of the 30th June coming fast, the government had to apply for a transition extension which was passed.


Then, on September the 18th, Britain signal that they intended to pass some domestic legislation that would contradict the provisions of the Northern Ireland Protocol. Less than 9 months after signing an agreement. The domestic law would allow the UK to overrule parts of the withdrawal agreement and give the UK the right to unilaterally interpret key trade agreements between Britain and Northern Ireland. The breach of this agreement, Mr Brandon Lewis admits, would “break international law.”



Hope all of that was useful, leave a comment if I missed anything out and make sure to share the website with friends and family!

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