Brexit timeline: key dates in UK’s divorce with EU

After dramatic cabinet resignations the Brexit process is facing a crucial few months

Anti-Brexit, pro-EU supporter Steve Bray holds placards on Abingdon Green across the road from the Houses of Parliament in London on Monday. Photograph: Matt Dunham/AP

Anti-Brexit, pro-EU supporter Steve Bray holds placards on Abingdon Green across the road from the Houses of Parliament in London on Monday. Photograph: Matt Dunham/AP

 

Britain is nearing the final straight of Brexit. At 11pm local time on March 29th, 2019, the UK is scheduled to leave the bloc. But still to be decided is what precisely will happen on Brexit day, what kind of deal, if any, Britain will leave with, and the final destination of the negotiations.

July 12th: White Paper

In the aftermath of David Davis’s resignation as Brexit secretary and Boris Johnson’s departure as foreign secretary, Theresa May’s government faces a forbidding challenge as it seeks to rally Conservative members of parliament around its vision of a softer Brexit than it had previously sought.

A huge test is expected this Thursday when the British government is due to set out more details about its plans for future relations with the EU (there is some suggestion this will be delayed until next week) – which it says should include a treaty commitment to comply with the bloc’s rules on goods.

In his resignation letter, Davis warned that such a policy “hands control of large swathes of our economy to the EU and is certainly not returning control of our laws in any real sense”.

As parliament prepares for the White Paper amid scenes of great political drama, the overarching question is how many within the Conservative party’s ranks will be content for Britain to be a mere rule-taker on such issues.

Monday, July 16th and Tuesday, July 17th: Customs union vote

Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the House of Commons, says long-delayed trade and customs Bills will be debated by MPs on these days. An amendment to the trade Bill backed by Conservative Brexit rebels and in line with Labour Party policy calls for the UK to stay in a customs union. The government resists this but is far from certain of victory.

September: Immigration report

The deadline for a government-requested report on European migration to the UK. The report, which is being drawn up by the UK’s Migration Advisory Council, is intended to provide evidence for the design of a new, post-Brexit migration system.

September 30th-October 3rd: Conservative Party conference in Birmingham

The annual gathering of the Tory faithful will be the last before Britain is scheduled to leave the EU. It may well constrain May from making more concessions to the EU for fear of upsetting Brexit hardliners.

October 18-19th: EU summit

The October summit had been seen in the past as the most likely opportunity for a final agreement on the UK divorce from the bloc and a statement on future relations. But it will come just two weeks after the Conservative conference, restricting May’s room for manoeuvre without antagonising Conservative Party Brexit hardliners.

November: Emergency EU summit?

A further EU summit could be needed to finalise the divorced deal if the deadlock on Ireland continues in October. In comments hours after his resignation, Davis said he expected the decisive Brexit summit to be in November.

December 13 -14:The last European Council of 2018

This is widely seen as the last practical date for an Article 50 divorce deal to be signed off by Britain and the EU. The summit comes a little over three months before the UK’s scheduled departure.

January-February 2019 (at the latest): Commons approval

By now the House of Commons must approve whatever Brexit deal May agrees in Brussels. Parliament must also pass an Implementation and Withdrawal Bill that sets out the terms of Brexit in fuller detail.

Until March 29th, 2019: Ratification

To take effect, the withdrawal agreement needs to be backed at an EU summit by a supermajority of leaders of member states (representing at least 20 of the other 27 EU countries and 65 per cent of their population). That decision must also be approved by the European Parliament in a plenary vote. Any legally questionable elements of the withdrawal treaty could also be referred to the European Court of Justice by MEPs.

March 29th, 2019: Brexit day

There will be plenty of political declarations on this historic day. But whether there will be discernible changes to everyday life at the moment of the UK’s departure from the EU depends on the negotiations in the preceding months. They could produce a largely seamless transition or, if they fail to yield any deal, a much more chaotic “cliff edge” Brexit.

After March 30th, 2019: Trade talks and transition

Fully-fledged trade talks can now begin between the UK and the EU. While Britain remained a member state, such talks were not permitted under EU law. Under the deal reached in principle in 2018, this is when the 21-month transition period begins. During this time most aspects of UK membership of the EU will remain in place, including free movement across borders and membership of the customs union and single market. But Britain will no longer have a vote.

December 31st, 2020: An end to transition?

The transition period is scheduled to end on this date. But some EU negotiators also doubt that a full UK-EU trade deal will be agreed by now – or for some time to come – given the protracted nature of such talks. That is one reason why the EU insists on “backstop” provisions to avoid a hard border in Ireland that will last unless and until a new arrangement is implemented.

December 31st, 2021: Goodbye to the backstop?

The UK government says it expects that any “temporary customs arrangements” introduced as part of the backstop would cease by this time because alternative measures will have been put in place. The EU is highly sceptical and says no time-limit on the backstop is acceptable.

Mid 2020s: Journey’s end?

Many business leaders suggest that the “maximum facilitation” plan favoured by Brexiters – relying on advanced technology to speed-up customs clearances – would need years to put in place, delaying “full Brexit” until deep into the 2020s. A less ambitious “fast track” system on the US-Canada border took decades to develop and billions of dollars in investment. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018

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