Part of a Brexit
(withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union)
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Part of a series of articles on the
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Brexit (t/;[1] a portmanteau of "British" and "exit") is the withdrawal of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU). Following a June 2016 referendum, in which 51.9% voted to leave, the UK government formally announced the country's withdrawal in March 2017, starting a two-year process that was due to conclude with the UK withdrawing on 29 March 2019. As the UK parliament voted against or failed to ratify the negotiated withdrawal agreements, that deadline has been extended three times, and is currently 31 January 2020.[2]

Withdrawal is advocated by Eurosceptics and opposed by pro-Europeanists, both of whom span the political spectrum. The UK joined the European Communities (EC) in 1973, with continued membership endorsed in a 1975 referendum. In the 1970s and 1980s, withdrawal from the EC was advocated mainly by the political left, e.g. in the Labour Party's 1983 election manifesto. From the 1990s, the eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party grew, and led a rebellion over ratification of the 1992 Maastricht Treaty that established the EU. In parallel with the UK Independence Party (UKIP), and the cross-party People's Pledge campaign, it pressured Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron to hold a referendum on continued EU membership. Cameron, who had campaigned to remain, resigned after the result and was succeeded by Theresa May.

On 29 March 2017, the UK government formally began the process of withdrawal by invoking Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, with permission from Parliament. May called a snap general election in June 2017, which resulted in a Conservative minority government supported by the Democratic Unionist Party. UK–EU withdrawal negotiations began later that month. The UK negotiated to leave the EU customs union and single market. This resulted in the November 2018 withdrawal agreement, but the UK parliament voted against ratifying it three times. The Labour Party wanted any agreement to maintain a customs union, while many Conservatives opposed the agreement's financial settlement on the UK's share of EU financial obligations, as well as the "Irish backstop" designed to prevent border controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party and others seek to reverse Brexit through a second referendum. Should a withdrawal agreement be passed, there will be a transition period until at least 31 December 2020, where the future relationship is to be negotiated.

In March 2019, the UK parliament voted for May to ask the EU to delay Brexit until April, and later October. Having failed several times to get her agreement approved by Parliament, May resigned as prime minister in July and was succeeded by Boris Johnson. He sought to replace parts of the agreement and vowed to leave the EU by the new deadline, with or without an agreement. On 17 October 2019, the UK government and EU agreed a revised withdrawal agreement, with new arrangements for Northern Ireland.[3][4] Parliament passed the second reading of the new agreement allowing it to move to the committee stage for further scrutiny, but they rejected plans to pass it into law before the 31 October deadline, and forced the government (through the 'Benn Act') to ask for a third Brexit delay. This was followed, on the last day of October, by an act providing for an early general election on 12 December.

Many effects of Brexit depend on how closely the UK will be tied to the EU, or whether it withdraws before terms are agreed – referred to as a no-deal Brexit. The broad consensus among economists is that Brexit will likely reduce the UK's economy and its real per capita income in the medium term and long term, and that the referendum itself damaged the economy.[a] Brexit is likely to reduce immigration from European Economic Area (EEA) countries to the UK, and poses challenges for UK higher education, academic research and security. Following Brexit, EU law and the EU Court of Justice will no longer have supremacy over UK laws or its Supreme Court, except to an extent agreed upon in a withdrawal agreement. The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 retains relevant EU law as domestic law, which the UK could then amend or repeal.


Below is a timeline of major events concerning Brexit.[18]




  • 6 July: A UK white paper on the future relationship between the UK and the EU, known as the Chequers agreement, is finalised.
  • 8 July: Davis resigns as Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Dominic Raab is appointed as his successor the following day.
  • July: Boris Johnson resigns as Foreign Secretary.[20]
  • 21 September: The EU rejects the UK white paper.
  • 14 November: The Brexit withdrawal agreement is published.
  • 15 November: Raab resigns as Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Stephen Barclay is appointed as his successor the following day.
  • 25 November: 27 other EU member states endorse the Withdrawal Agreement.


  • 15 January: The First meaningful vote is held on the Withdrawal Agreement in the UK House of Commons. The UK Government is defeated by 432 votes to 202.[21]
  • 12 March: The Second meaningful vote on the Withdrawal Agreement with the UK Government is defeated again by 391 votes to 242.[22]
  • 14 March: The UK Government motion passes 412 to 202 to extend the Article 50 period.
  • 20 March: Theresa May requests the EU extend the Article 50 period until 30 June 2019.
  • 21 March: The European Council offers to extend the Article 50 period until 22 May 2019 if the Withdrawal Agreement is passed by 29 March 2019 but, if it does not, then the UK has until 12 April 2019 to indicate a way forward. The extension is formally agreed the following day.
  • 29 March: The original end of the Article 50 period and the original planned date for Brexit. Third vote on the Withdrawal Agreement after being separated from the Political Declaration. UK Government defeated again by 344 votes to 286.
  • 5 April: Theresa May requests for a second time that the EU extend the Article 50 period until 30 June 2019.[23]
  • 10 April: The European Council grants another extension to the Article 50 period to 31 October 2019, or the first day of the month after that in which the Withdrawal Agreement is passed, whichever comes first. If the UK does not hold European Parliament elections in May 2019 (it did) it will leave on 1 June 2019.[24][25]
  • 24 May: Theresa May announces that she will resign as Conservative Party leader, effective 7 June, due to being unable to get her Brexit plans through parliament and several votes of no-confidence,[26] continuing as prime minister while a Conservative leadership contest takes place.
  • 18 July: MPs approve, with a majority of 41, an amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 that blocks suspension of Parliament between 9 October and 18 December, unless a new Northern Ireland Executive is formed.[27]
  • 24 July: Boris Johnson accepts the Queen's invitation to form a government and becomes Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the third since the referendum.[28]
  • 25 July: Both Houses of Parliament go into summer recess on 25 July until 3 September.[29][30]
  • 28 August: Boris Johnson announces his intention to prorogue Parliament in September. The Queen would deliver a speech from the throne on 14 October to begin a new session. This was controversial because it would limit the time for Parliament to pass legislation ahead of the Article 50 deadline of 31 October.[31] The Queen approved the timetable at a meeting of the Privy Council at Balmoral.[32]
  • 3 September: A motion for an emergency debate to pass a bill that would rule out a unilateral no-deal Brexit by forcing the Government to get parliamentary approval for either a withdrawal agreement or a no-deal Brexit. This motion, to allow the debate for the following day, passed by 328 to 301. 21 Conservative MPs voted for the motion.
  • 4 September: The Benn Bill passed second reading by 329 to 300; a 22nd Conservative, Caroline Spelman, voted against the Government position. Later the same day, MPs rejected Johnson's motion to call an October general election by a vote of 298 to 56, which failed to achieve the two-thirds Commons majority needed under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. Labour MPs abstained from the vote.
  • 9 September: The Government again loses an attempt to call an election under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. Dominic Grieve's humble address, requiring key Cabinet Office figures to publicise private messages about the prorogation of parliament, is passed by the House of Commons. Speaker John Bercow announces his intention to resign as Speaker of the House of Commons on or before 31 October. The Benn Bill receives Royal Assent and becomes the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019. Parliament is prorogued until 14 October 2019. Party conference season begins, with anticipation building around a general election.
  • 24 September: The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom rules unanimously that Boris Johnson's decision to advise the Queen to prorogue parliament was unlawful, and that the prorogation itself is therefore null and of no effect.[33][34][35]
  • 25 September: Parliament is recalled.
  • 2 October: The Government publishes a white paper outlining a new plan to replace the Irish backstop, involving regulatory alignment across the island of Ireland but retaining a customs border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.[36] A further, shorter, prorogation is announced from 8 October to 14 October.
  • 7 October: The Outer House of the Court of Session in Edinburgh dismisses a case brought by petitioners, including Joanna Cherry, seeking a court order compelling Boris Johnson to write the letter requesting an extension that could be required by the Benn Act, in view of statements by Johnson and his representatives which it was said indicate that they might attempt to circumvent the Act. The Court accepted an assurance to it by the government's lawyers that Johnson would write the required letter. The Court also dismissed a request for an order preventing the government from frustrating the Benn Act, for example by asking another EU member state to veto a requested Brexit extension, after the government's lawyers undertook to the Court that no such action would be taken. There is to be an appeal to the Inner House of the Court of Session. Separately in the Inner House, the petitioners request a ruling that, if such a letter comes to be required and Johnson fails to write it, the Court will write the letter itself—an unusual procedure that is available only in Scotland.[37][38]
  • 9 October: The Inner House delays its decision until 21 October, stating: "Until the time for sending the letter has arrived, the PM has not acted unlawfully, whatever he and his officials are reported to have said privately or in public. The situation remains fluid. Over the next two weeks, circumstances will inevitably change.”[39]
  • 14 October: Parliament returns for the Queen's Speech.[40]
  • 17 October: The UK and European Commission agree on a revised withdrawal agreement containing a new protocol on Northern Ireland.[41][42] The European Council endorses the deal.[43]
  • 19 October: A special Saturday sitting of Parliament is held to debate the revised withdrawal agreement.[44][45] The prime minister moves approval of that agreement. MPs first pass, by 322 to 306, Sir Oliver Letwin's amendment to the motion, delaying consideration of the agreement until the legislation to implement it has been passed; the motion is then carried as amended, implementing Letwin's delay.[46] This delay activates the Benn Act, requiring the prime minister immediately to write to the European Council with a request for an extension of withdrawal until 31 January 2020.[47][48]
  • 19 October: Prime minister Boris Johnson sends two letters to the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk: one, which is stated to be from the UK prime minister but is not signed, refers to the requirements of the Benn Act and requests an extension until 31 January 2020; the other, signed personally by Johnson and copied to all Council members, states that it is his own belief that a delay would be a mistake and requests support from the president and Council members for his continuing efforts to ensure withdrawal without an extension. The letters are delivered by the British permanent representative in Brussels, together with a cover note signed by himself which affirms that the first letter complies with the Benn Act.[49][50][51]
  • 21 October: The Speaker refuses the government's request for a new vote on the withdrawal proposal, applying the convention that a motion that is the same "in substance" as an earlier one cannot be brought back during the course of a single parliamentary session.[52][53]
  • 21 October: In the Inner House of the Court of Session, the petitioners concede that Johnson has fulfilled the requirement of the Benn Act that he write seeking an extension, but contend that his second letter negates the first. The Court refuses the government's request to dismiss the case, deciding that the case should remain before the court “until it is clear that the obligations under [the Benn Act] have been complied with in full”. On 7 October, government lawyers had undertaken to the Outer House that Johnson will abide by all requirements of the Act. These include responding to the EU's reaction to his letter. Any breach of that undertaking could place Johnson in contempt of the Court.[54]
  • 21 October: The government introduces in the Commons the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill with the title: "A Bill to Implement, and make other provision in connection with, the agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union which sets out the arrangements for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU".[55]
  • 22 October: The EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill is approved (second reading) by 329 votes to 299, but the accompanying "programme motion", to get all stages of the bill completed in three days and thus before 31 October, is defeated by 322 votes to 308 after MPs object that this would not allow time for adequate consideration. In Brussels, EU Council president Donald Tusk says he will recommend to the Council that it approve the UK's request for an extension.[56][57]
  • 24 October: Prime Minister Boris Johnson asks Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn to support on 28 October a government motion for a general election on 12 December (in order to achieve the two-thirds majority required by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act). Corbyn continues to insist that a no-deal Brexit must first be "off the table".[58]
  • 25 October: Following a meeting of the European Commission, a spokesperson says that "the EU 27 have agreed to the principle of an extension and work will now continue in the coming days", and that they plan to decide on the date without an emergency summit.[59]
  • 28 October: European Council offers to extend Brexit until 31 January 2020—a third extension, which the UK accepts.[60][61][62]
  • 28 October: Government motion for an election on 12 December is defeated by 299 to 70, short of the two-thirds majority required by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, after most Labour MPs abstain.[63] Government withdraws the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill and states an intention to introduce on 29 October "a short bill for an election on 12 December".[64]
  • 29 October: Government introduces the Early Parliamentary General Election Act 2019:
(1) An early parliamentary general election is to take place on 12 December 2019 in consequence of the passing of this Act.
(2) That day is to be treated as a polling day appointed under section 2(7) of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.[65]
This measure would circumvent the Fixed-term Parliaments Act without amending it.
The Labour leadership supports the bill in principle, satisfied that the extension to 31 January (now confirmed) has taken the prospect of a no-deal Brexit "off the table". A government attempt to prevent non-government amendments fails and an amendment from opposition parties to alter the date to 9 December is defeated. Amendments from opposition parties to reduce the voting age from 18 to 16 and to allow resident EU nationals to vote are ruled out by the Deputy Speaker (chairing) as not within the "scope" of the bill; the government had threatened to withdraw the bill if they were allowed. MPs pass the bill unamended by 438 votes to 20, with more than 100 Labour members abstaining and 11 voting against.[66][67]


  • 31 January: New withdrawal date, set on 28 October 2019. Described as a "flextension" by European Council president Donald Tusk, it allows the UK to leave before the deadline, on the first of any month, if by then a deal has been approved by the UK and European parliaments.[68][61]
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