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Preparing for Brexit - a timeline of events since the referendum

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A timeline for Brexit - a chronology of events since the June 23rd referendum


UPDATED 29 March 2017
When UK voters chose on 23rd June 2016, by a small majority, to take Britain out of the European Union, some  imagined that it would be a quick and simple process. By contrast, experts and politicians knew very well that extricating the UK from the EU would be long, difficult and contentious. The word "Brexit" itself meant different things for different people, even among the leaders of the "Leave" campaign.  For some it just meant liberating the UK from the power of Brussels, while continuing a free trade agreement with the EU – the "soft Brexit" option demanded by industry and the financial sector;  but other Brexiteers were dreaming of a "hard Brexit", tearing up all agreements with the EU, including those concerning the "Single market".  Since becoming Prime Minister Theresa May has been trying to satisfy both the hard Brexiteers and the soft Brexiteers at the same time. It is an impossible task, Brexit remains undefined, and the Government is divided.
   The aim of this page is to provide a clear and concise chronological record of the main events since the Brexit referendum of June 23rd. This timeline is in reverse-chronological order, with the latest events at the top of the page.

The bumpy road to Brexit

Next PM Theresa May
Theresa May - the new British Prime Minister
29th March 2017 .
Theresa May officially signifies to the EU that Britain is invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, initiating a two year period of negotions propr to Britain leaving the European Union.  Although in both houses of Parliament there are a majority of members who are personally voted against leaving the EU, neither House had the stomach to stand up to the Government's determination to take the UK out of the European Union and out of the Single Market.


21st February 2017 .
The House of Lords is debating the Bill to take the UK out of the EU.  
   Meanwhile a man who may well be the next French president, Emmanuel Macron, was in London, where he invited banks, talent, researchers and academics to move to France.

17th February 2017 .
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair declared his mission to persuade the UK to stay in the EU, calling for those who are against Brexit to “rise up in defence of what we believe”. Blair's speech was seen as a criticism of tyhe current Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, who told Labour MPs to vote in favour of triggering Article 50.  

26th January 2017 .
the House of Commons debated the bill to allow the government to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, to take the UK out of the EU.  Althouth, before the referendum, two thirds of MPs supported remaining in the EU, only just over 100 finally voted against triggering Article 50. They included just one Conservative MP, veteran pro-EU campaigner Ken Clark. The bill next has to go to the House of Lords, before returning for a second reading in the Commons.

24th January 2017 .
Judges in the The UK's Supreme Court have ruled that the British Government cannot trigger Article 50 without the authorisation of Parliament.
  Although, before the referendum, a large majority of MPs were against leaving the European Union, it is probable that only a minority will vote against triggering Article 50. All Scottish Nationalist MPs and Liberal Democrat MPs are expected to vote against triggering Article 50, but Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn has said that Labour will not vote against it.
   A number of Labour MPs are expected to defy the official party line, and vote against Article 50. It remains to be seen if any Conservative MPs who campaigned strongly against Brexit will also vote against their own government.
   The bill to trigger Article 50 must also be passed by the House of Lords; while the debate in the Lords is likely to be divisive, it is unlikely that the Lords would vote against the government on this issue.

18th January 2017
Following Theresa May's assertion that the UK will leave the European Single Market, major UK international bank HSBC announces plans to move 1,000 staff from London to Paris when Brexit comes into effect. And HSBC is a British bank. Most of the major banks and financial companies operating in London are not British. Quoting a report by consultancy firm Oliver Wyman, Reuters suggest that 75,000 jobs may disappear and the government may lose up to 10 billion pounds in tax revenue.


17th January 2017 - May sets out her view of Brexit.
In a much-anticipated speech, Theresa May has provided a little more clarity regarding the Brexit deal that she hopes to achieve. To the delight of her hard-liners, she ruled out remaining in the European Single Market and signaled that Britain cannot remain in the European customs union either. However, sounding conciliatory, she repeated her intention of working to ensure that British businesses have the fullest possible access to the European market, and European business have the same access to UK markets, thanks to some sort of new free trade deal with the European Union. She even envisaged that the UK would continue to participate in certain European programmes, contributing to specific European budgets.
    Significantly - though the full significance of this may perhaps only become apparent later - she also announced that Parliament will have to vote on any Brexit deal, before it can be enacted.
   The proposals went down well with her supporters and with those who want the UK to be completely free of the European Union; but political opponents and voices in the media were quick to point out that Britain is unlikely to get the kind of deal that Mrs. May outlined, given that any deal will also have to be approved by the European Union and by all other 27 remaining countries.  While EU negotiator Michel Barnier expressed satisfaction that there is now a little more clarity, and that Britain wants to work for a good positive relationship with the EU, other commentators were less impressed.
   Mrs. May's objectives contain a number of still irreconcilable ideas. For instance, it remains unclear how it will be possible to keep freedom of movement between the Irish republic - part of the EU - and Northern Ireland, without reintroducing a "hard border", which May has ruled out.
   Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon reacted forcefully to the speech, claiming that leaving the single Market will be bad for Scotland. Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, along with Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron,  feared that Mrs. May will be unable to get the "good for Britain" deal that she is so confindent about, and that the UK will end up with a bad deal, or no deal at all, which could be particularly bad for ordinary working people.
   Mrs. May had earlier warned people in Europe against trying to "punish" the UK for Brexit, claiming that if no acceptable deal with the EU can be found, the UK could slash taxes on businesses to well below EU levels, to lure international business to Britain.  On closer inspection, this however seems a hollow threat, given the UK's current balance of payments deficit, and that many public services, notably the Health Service and the road network, are seriously underfunded.  Taxes in the UK have already been reduced considerably in the past thirty years, and in many sectors there is  no scope for further cutbacks or "efficiency savings" as they are benignly called. Serious cuts to business taxes would need to be balanced  either by another big reduction in public services and their funding, or by higher taxes on people and services – and neither of these would go down well with ordinary people, most particularly with those who voted for Brexit in the first place.
   As January 17th draws to a close, the Brexit hard-liners are feeling happy. It is unlikely to last for long.  May's vision of a good friendly deal for the UK as a partner with the EU looks good; but getting a deal means concessions. Whatever deal the UK can negotiate with the European Union, it will not be exactly the rosy cherry-picking arrangement that the supporters of a hard Brexit are dreaming of.  In the end, Britain needs the EU far more than the EU needs Britain.  44% of Britain's exports go to the EU: about 8% of EU exports go to the UK.  Half of the food consumed in Britain is imported, and over half of that comes from the EU. The rest of the EU is fairly close to being self-sufficient in food; this is not of course true for all types of food – but the types of food in which the EU is not self sufficient do not come from the UK.  Britain is a good market for German cars and machinery... but not the only one; and in the event of tarif barriers going up between the UK and the EU if Brexit talks collapse, German cars will quickly fill the parts of the continental market that open up as UK-made vehicles are priced out.
   These facts of economic reality suggest that the UK will not be entering Brexit negotiations in a position of strength – quite the opposite. So if, as Mrs May says, she really does plan to get a good deal for Britain, UK negotiators are going to have to make a lot of concessions. A lot.
   Finally, Mrs. May insisted again today that "No deal is better than a bad deal" – a phrase heartily applauded by Brexit hard-liners. Unfortunately, this phrase has little more meaning that the earlier much-repeated mantra of "Brexit means Brexit."  It's another platitude, and of course it is true; but it is meaningless until such time as the "bad deal" is defined. And if there is one thing about which we can safely be sure, even today, it is this : if and when a deal is reached, it will be presented as a good deal, not as a bad deal. Indeed, it will be presented as the best deal possible – another platitude to sell to voters.
   In the meantime, predicting the outcome of forthcoming Brexit negotiations remains impossible, even if the situation is now "clearer".
   But is it?  
    It is still not impossible, though fairly improbable, that Theresa May (who, let's not forget, campaigned against Brexit before the Referendum) is the Machiavelli of our time, and playing a very high-stakes game. Could it just be that she is giving the hard Brexiteers most of what they are dreaming of, but also all the rope that they need  so that some day, this year or next, when things go pear-shaped, she can pull the noose tight and say. "Stop this nonsense. We're getting nowhere, and we risk breaking the British economy, not to mention the United Kingdom itself."  Theresa Machiavelli? Unlikely, but not completely impossible.
   If negotiations really do look as if they are going badly, May is unlikely to relish the idea of going down in the history books as the Prime Minister who led Britain out into the wilderness.  Most politicians want history to remember them favourably; and Theresa May, the PM that saved Britain from itself, would be a far better way to be remembered.

4th-8th December
The UK Supreme Court hears an appeal by the Government against the High Court's judgement that Parliament must vote on the Government's Brexit plan before Article 50 can be triggered.  If the government loses its appeal, the start of the Brexit process could be delayed.  The Supreme Court's verdict will be given in January.

1st December
In a historic by-election result, the Liberal Democrat party, standing on a resolutely anti-Brexit ticket, overturned a 23,000 Conservative majority, to take the seat with an 1,800 majority from the former Conservative and pro-Brexit MP Zac Goldsmith –. a swing of 21.5 points from the Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats. Goldsmith, a high-profile and popular MP,  had resigned as a Conservative in protest over plans to expand Heathrow airport, and was standing again as an independent.  He was beaten by the LibDem candidate Sarah Olney, a complete newcomer to politics.

16th November

Unemployment continues to fall in the UK in spite of the prospect of Brexit. The jobless rate has fallen to 4.8%, the lowest level since 2005. However the rate of growth in employment is starting to decline.  Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the number of people working in the UK rose by  454,000 in the last 12 months.. but that less than half of these jobs were taken by people with British nationality.   People in favour of Brexit claim that this shows how British jobs are being taken by foreign workers;  anti-Brexit campaigners argue that the figures just show that the growth of Britain's economy is absolutely dependent on the ability of employers to hire people from the EU and beyond.

15th November
The Times nespaper publishes a report from the accountancy firm Deloitte which claims the government is in chaos over Brexit, with major disagreement in the Cabinet between the "hard" Brexiteers and those demanding that the UK remains in the European Single Market (which is more than just the EU).

5th November 2016  

Theresa May announces that the British Government will appeal to the Supreme Court against the ruling by judges in the English High Court of 4th November. The Government claims that it has "sovereign powers" that allow it to make or break international treaties without first getting approval from Parliament.  The Government's appeal will be heard in the Supreme Court between 5th and 8th December.

5th November
The right-wing British media, and in particular the Daily Mail newspaper,  are vitriolic in their condemnation of the judges of the High Court. In a full front-page headline, the mail condemns the judges as "enemies of the people". Theresa May refuses to condemn the Mail's headlines, claiming "freedom of the press".

4th November
A Conservative MP Stephen Phillips resigns from Parliament, saying that he cannot support Theresa May's position on Brexit. Phillips was actually one of the minority of  Tory (Conservative) MPs who campaigned in favour of Brexit, but is strongly opposed to the "hard" Brexit option being envisaged by Mrs. May.

4th November 2016
In one of the most important constitutional conflicts for many years in Britain, Theresa May's Brexit timetable is put into doubt. Responding to a complaint lodged by citizens groups, three judges in the English High Court rule that the government cannot constitutionally trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty without being authorised to do so by Parliament.

3rd October 2016
The Pound falls sharply amid renewed fears that Theresa May could take the UK out of the European Single Market as well as leaving the EU.  May hastens to reassure the markets that she will obtain the best possible terms to ensure that Brexit does not damage British exporters.

2nd October 2016
Speaking to the party faithful at the annual Conservative Party Conference, Theresa May announces a timeline for Brexit. She plans to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty before the end of March 2017, and without a vote in Parliament.  "Triggering Article 50" is the formal process by which the UK will officially inform the European Union that it is planning to leave. Detailed negotiations on the terms of Britain's exit from the EU cannot start until Article 50 has been triggered.
   In her speech, Theresa May suggested that she would go for a "hard" Brexit if that was the only way to stop the free movement of people between the EU and Britain.

Mid September
The British Pound, which had stabilised since the intial post-referendum fall, starts to fall again as businesses and investors worry that the Government may go for the "hard" Brexit option, which could be seriously damaging for large parts of British industry, notably the financial sector.

11th September 2016
Foreign Secretary and prominent "Leave" campaigner  Boris Johnson launches a new pressure group called "Change Britain", whose aim is to force the government to choose the "hard" option for Brexit, taking Britain out of the European Union and the single Market as quickly as possible.

Summer 2016
With Theresa May installed as Prime Minister, the new Government sets to work; but it is the summer holiday period, so the Brexit is put on hold.  Neither Theresa May nor her Government have a clear idea of exactly what they want, apart from a vague "Brexit".  Before the referendum, Brexit was never clearly defined, and no preparations were made for implementing it. Asked what Brexit meant, Theresa May could only say that "Brexit means Brexit", and that she would obtain (not would try to obtain) "the best possible terms" for the UK in the coming years or months of negotiations. As an explanation, that was little better, since it should be self-evident that the government will obtain "the best possible terms" for a British exit from the EU; but the unanswered question remains: "How good will these terms be ?" They will undoubtedly be the best possible, but that does not necessarily mean that they will be good, nor favourable for the UK. In response to May's "Brexit means Brexit", European leaders repeat that "Out means out."

13th July 2016
Theresa May takes over as British Prime Minister, and makes the key appointments to her Government. To general surprise, she appoints Boris Johnson to the post of Foreign Secretary. Johnson thus becomes the key figure in the UK's Brexit team, in which he is joined by two hard-line Brexiteers David Davis as Minister for Brexit (officially "Sectretary of State for Exiting the European Union"), and Liam Fox as Trade Secretary.

11th July 2016
Under much pressure from Party members and from the media, worried by her lack of experience, Andrea Leadsom announces that she is withdrawing from the Conservative leadership race.  There now remains only one contestant, so there will be no need for the vote by Conservative Party faithful in Spetember. Theresa May will be the next British Prime Minister.

5th July 2016
In the first round of voting, Conservative MPs eliminate Michael Gove from the leadership contest. Gove is not pardoned for having betrayed his partner Boris Johnson.  The final round in the race for the leadership of the Conservative Party – to be decided in September by a vote of Party members – is now a completely unexpected contest, between two women Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom.

30th June 2016
Michael Gove, former Justice Secretary and key "Leave" campaigner, unexpectedly announces that he cannot support Boris Johnson in the Conservative leadership battle, and will be standing himself. Within hours, and shortly before the deadline for applications, Boris Johnson announces his decision to quit the race to become the next leader of the Conservative Party, and next Prime Minister. It looks as though Johnson's political career is over, for the forseeable future.  The leadership race is now down to three candidates, Theresa May, former Home Secretary under David Cameron, and until now a "remain" supporter,  Andrea Leadsom, former Energy secretary, a "leave" campaigner, and Gove.

24th June 2016
David Cameron announces his resignation both as Prime Minister and as a Member of Parliament.  Boris Johnson, the populist and controversial  figurehead of the Leave campaign, is tipped to replace Cameron as Prime Minister. The next Prime Minister will be the next leader of the Conservative Party, chosen by Party Members in a national vote. Johnson however has many political enemies.

23rd  June 2016
Following a very bitter campaign (see Brexit arguments) The British people vote in a referendum on the question: "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?". In a result that was totally unexpected, voters chosose by a small majority, 51.1% to 48.9%, for Britain to leave the EU.  The value of the British Pound loses some 10% on the currency exchange markets.

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 © Andrew Rossiter and About-Britain.com 2016 
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