UPDATED march 2018
voters chose on 23rd June
2016, by a small majority, to take
Britain out of the European Union, some imagined that it
be a quick and simple process. By contrast, experts and politicians
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
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
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.
► After the elections: Is Brexit inevitable? Maybe not.
The aim of this page is to provide a clear and
concise chronological record of the main events since the Brexit
June 23rd 2016. This timeline is in reverse-chronological order, with
the latest events at the top of the page.
May - the new British Prime Minister
2nd March 2018 .
May delivered another keynote speech on Brexit, outlining the Brexit
result that she wants to achieve. The speech at last began to
accept that it is inevitable that Britain will not get the Brexit deal
that the "ultras" are wanting, and that "both sides" will need to make
concessions, but it still suggested that Britain will be able to get a
good deal, and will still be able to choose selectively the areas for
which free trade will continue as today between the UK and the EU.
On the other hand, it completely failed to clarify how the UK plans to
solve the intractible issue of the land border between the Republic of
Ireland (an EU member state) and Northern Ireland.
the Irish government and the British government are, in theory,
committed to ensuring that no "hard border" gets reestablished
between the two parts of Ireland, and that goods and people can
continue to flow freely between the two countries. But if the UK leaves
the EU, the Single Market and the Customs Union, the reappearance of a
hard border is an inevitable consequence. The EU cannot allow the
Republic of Ireland to be used as an open back door for the undeclared
and untaxed entry of goods from outside the EU - including goods that
do not comply with EU quality or safety regulations; and the UK will
not want to let Ireland be used as a back door into Britain for
immigration from the EU and beyond. So the reappearance of some kind of
border is inevitable – taking Ireland 18 years back in time, to
before the Good Friday agreement, which, more than anything else,
brought an end to 70 years of conflict in Ireland and Ulster.
It now appears that the British government recognises that the UK will
actually be poorer after Brexit than before it, and that parts of the
UK economy will suffer. Britain will be willing to maintain "regulatory
alignment" with the UK is many sectors, to ensure that trade between
the UK and the EU remains as easy as possible; but some rights will be
lost, and some sectors, including the all-important financial sector of
the City of London, will lose access to some European markets.
If a deal can be reached under these terms, it will satisfy
no-one. A "Brexit-lite", if it can be agreed, will not satisfy the
hard-line Brexiteers, and it will not satisfy those who are still
campaigning for Brexit to be stopped. Instead of reducing bureaucracy,
it will multiply it, with the reintroduction of declarations for
importers and exporters, and the disruption of supply-chains.
Opinion polls now show that there is now a majority of people in
the UK who, if asked to vote again on Brexit, would vote to stop it.
However, in the absence of any coordinated opposition in Parliament and
in the country, the British government carries on with this act of
Now that the Prime Minister
herself has admitted that the UK will not be better off after
Brexit, it is difficult to understand why - other than for reasons of
ideology and internal party politics - the British Government does
not decide to call the whole adventure off. There is still time... but
it is running out fast.
27th August 2017 .
last the Labour Party makes a clear policy statement on Brexit, and one
that is different from the position of the Conservative party. Labour
want the UK to stay in the European Single Market and the Customs Union
in a "transitional period" following the implementation of Brexit. A
period of four years has been suggested... though some Labour MPs want
more, and even permanent membership of the Single Market and the
Customs Union after Brexit.
Since this would amount to the UK
having the advantages and many of the costs of EU membership without
being able to take part in the working of the EU, nor taking part in
the EU decision-making process, Labour's new position looks like a
possible first step towards coming out clearly against Brexit.
Reaffirming Labour's earlier anti-Brexit position would be
another way of positioning the Labour Party as a clear opposition to
the Conservatives who, under Theresa May, are seen as the pro-Brexit
party. With anti-Brexit sentiment growing in the UK, with anti-Brexit movements planning major mobilisation in the Autumn,
with the reality of an impending Brexit beginning to hurt the UK
economy and living standards, Autumn 2017 will be a pivotal season. Few
commentators are willing to rule out the possibility of another general
election, or even another referendum, within the coming twelve months.
9th May 2017 .
had called an unnecessary general election in order to get a stronger
majority for her government in Parliament. She failed.
Instead the Conservatives remain the largest party in Parliament, but
they lost seats, and no longer have an absolute majority. While this is
unlikely to stop the Brexit process, it significantly changes the
balance of power within the UK. The "hard Brexit" that May seemed to be
planning now looks less probable. It now looks more likely that the UK
will decide to remain in the European Single Market... but the road
ahead towards Brexit is now less clear than it ever has been, and at
this point in time, predictions are pointless. A thick fog covers the
road to Brexit, and noone can see what is ahead. Almost anything could happen.
Election result, details and analysis ► British general election 2017
18th April 2017 .
a move that caught everyone, including her own party, by surprise,
Theresa May announced a snap general election in the UK for
8th June. Details and analysis ► British general election 2017
29th March 2017 .
May officially signifies to the EU that Britain is invoking Article 50
of the Lisbon treaty, initiating a two year period of negotions prior
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 .
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
26th January 2017 .
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 .
in the The UK's Supreme Court have ruled that the British Government
cannot trigger Article 50 without the authorisation of Parliament.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
may also like.....
© Andrew Rossiter and About-Britain.com
of Theresa May - Crown Copyright - Creative commons licence