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Brexit (/ˈbrɛksɪt, ˈbrɛɡzɪt/;[1] a portmanteau of "British" and "exit") is the withdrawal of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU). Following a referendum held on 23 June 2016 in which 51.9 percent of those voting supported leaving the EU, the Government invoked Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, starting a two-year process which was due to conclude with the UK's exit on 29 March 2019. That deadline has since been extended to 31 October 2019.[2][3]

Withdrawal from the EU has been advocated by both left-wing and right-wing Eurosceptics, while pro-Europeanists, who also span the political spectrum, have advocated continued membership and maintaining the customs union and single market. The UK joined the European Communities (EC) in 1973 under the Conservative government of Edward Heath, with continued membership endorsed by a referendum in 1975. In the 1970s and 1980s, withdrawal from the EC was advocated mainly by the political left, with the Labour Party's 1983 election manifesto advocating full withdrawal. In 1987, the Single European Act, the first major revision of 1957's Treaty of Rome, formally established the single European market and European Political Cooperation.

From the 1990s, opposition to further European integration came mainly from the right. When in 1992 the Maastricht Treaty, which created the European Union (EU) and the single market and guaranteed the four basic freedoms (the free movement of goods, services, capital and people around the EU) was brought before Parliament, there were divisions within the Conservative Party, leading to a rebellion over the Treaty.

The UK Independence Party (UKIP), formed in 1993, grew strongly in the early 2010s and the influence of the cross-party People's Pledge campaign has also been described as influential in bringing about a referendum. The Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, pledged during the campaign for the 2015 general election to hold a new referendum—a promise which he fulfilled in 2016 following pressure from the Eurosceptic wing of his party. Cameron, who had campaigned to remain, resigned after the result and was succeeded by Theresa May, his former Home Secretary. She called a snap general election less than a year later but lost her overall majority. Her minority government was supported in key votes by the Democratic Unionist Party.

On 29 March 2017, the Government of the United Kingdom invoked Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. Theresa May announced the government's intention not to seek permanent membership of the European single market or the EU customs union after leaving the EU and promised to repeal the European Communities Act of 1972 and incorporate existing European Union law into UK domestic law. Negotiations with the EU officially started in June 2017. In November 2018, the Draft Withdrawal Agreement, negotiated between the UK Government and the EU, was published. The House of Commons voted against the agreement by a margin of 432 to 202 (the largest parliamentary defeat in history for a sitting UK government) on 15 January 2019, and again on 12 March with a margin of 391 to 242 against the agreement. On 14 March 2019, the House of Commons voted for the Prime Minister, Theresa May, to ask the EU for such an extension of the period allowed for the negotiation. Members from across the House of Commons rejected the agreement, with the leadership of the Labour Party stating in the House of Commons that any deal must maintain a customs union and single market, and with a large percentage of Conservative Party members rejecting the Irish backstop as it was drafted in the EU withdrawal agreement.

The broad consensus among economists is that Brexit will likely reduce the UK's real per capita income in the medium term and long term, and that the Brexit referendum itself damaged the economy.[a] Studies on effects since the referendum show a reduction in GDP, trade and investment, as well as household losses from increased inflation. Brexit is likely to reduce immigration from European Economic Area (EEA) countries to the UK, and poses challenges for UK higher education and academic research. As of July 2019, the size of the "divorce bill"—the UK's inheritance of existing EU trade agreements—and relations with Ireland and other EU member states remains uncertain. The precise impact on the UK depends on whether the process will be a "hard" or "soft" Brexit, or whether there is a no-deal Brexit; whereby the UK would leave the EU without a withdrawal agreement.


Terminology and etymology

In the wake of the referendum of 23 June 2016, many new pieces of Brexit-related jargon have entered popular use.[17][18]

Article 50
Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union is a procedure in the treaty that sets out how member states can leave the Union, with a two-year timetable for leaving. Article 50 was triggered by Prime Minister Theresa May at the end of March 2017.
A term referring to the government's proposal to keep Northern Ireland in some aspects of the European Union Customs Union and of the European Single Market to prevent a hard border in Ireland, so as not to compromise the Good Friday Agreement.
Blind / Blindfold Brexit
Coined in September 2018 to describe a scenario where the UK leaves the EU without clarity on the terms of a future trade deal.[19][20] EU and British negotiators would then have until 31 December 2020 to sign off on a future trade deal, during which time the UK would effectively remain a member of the EU, but with no voting rights.[21][22]
Brexit (like its early variant, Brixit)[23] is a portmanteau of "British" and "exit". Grammatically, it has been called a complex nominal.[24] The first attestation in the Oxford English Dictionary is a Euractiv blog post by Peter Wilding on 15 May 2012.[25][26][27] It was coined by analogy with "Grexit", attested on 6 February 2012 to refer to a hypothetical withdrawal of Greece from the eurozone (and possibly also the EU altogether, although there was never a clear popular mandate for it).[28] At present, Brexit is impending under the EU Treaties and the UK Acts of Parliament, and the current negotiations pursuant thereto.[29][27]
Canada plus / Canada model
This is shorthand for a model where the United Kingdom leaves the European Union and signs a free trade agreement. This would allow the UK to control its own trade policy as opposed to jointly negotiating alongside the European Union, but would require rules of origin agreements to be reached for UK–EU trade. It is likely this would lead to trade being less "free" than joining the EFTA, and result in additional border controls being required, which is an issue of contention, particularly on the island of Ireland. The Canadian–European Union deal took seven years to negotiate, but Brexiteers argue it would take much less time between the UK and EU as the two participants already align on regulatory standards.[30]
Chequers Agreement
The short name given by the media to The framework for the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union, the government's white paper drawn up at Chequers and published on 12 July 2018, which set out the sort of relationship the UK government wanted with the EU after Brexit.[31][32] The government published the updated draft on 22 November 2018.[33]
Clean break Brexit
This term, used particularly by the Brexit Party, is more generally known as a no-deal Brexit.[34]
Customs Union
A customs union is an agreement under which two or more countries agree not to impose taxes on imported goods from one another and to apply a common tariff on goods imported from countries not party to the agreement. For more information.
Divorce bill
It is expected that the UK will make a contribution toward financial commitments that it had approved while still a member of the EU, but are still outstanding. The amount owed is officially referred to as the financial settlement but has informally been referred to as an exit bill or divorce bill.[35] While serving as Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab said the UK will not pay the full financial settlement to the EU in a no-deal scenario but would instead pay a significantly lower amount to cover the UK's "strict legal obligations".[36] The UK Government's estimate of the financial settlement in March 2019 was £38 billion.[37] After normal member contributions payable to 31 October 2019 of £5 billion, a final settlement of £33 billion on 31 October is currently estimated.[38]
Hard and soft Brexit
"Hard Brexit" and "soft Brexit" are unofficial terms that are commonly used by news media[39] to describe the prospective relationship between the UK and the EU after withdrawal. A hard Brexit (also called a no-deal Brexit) usually refers to the UK leaving the EU and the European Single Market with few or no deals (trade or otherwise) in place, meaning that trade will be conducted under the World Trade Organization's rules, and services will no longer be provided by agencies of the European Union (such as aviation safety).[40] Soft Brexit encompasses any deal that involves retaining membership in the European Single Market and at least some free movement of people according to European Economic Area (EEA) rules.[41] Theresa May's "Chequers agreement" embraced some aspects of a "soft" Brexit.[42] Note that the EEA and the deal with Switzerland contain fully free movement of people, and that the EU has wanted that to be included in a deal with UK on fully free trade.
Hard border
Because of Brexit, a physical border could be erected between Northern Ireland, a constituent part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state. This raises concerns about the future of the Good Friday Agreement (or Belfast Agreement), a peace deal signed in 1998 which helped to end the Northern Ireland conflict (The Troubles).
Indicative vote
Indicative votes are votes by members of parliament on a series of non-binding resolutions. They are a means of testing the will of the House of Commons on different options relating to one issue.[43] MPs have voted on eight different options for the next steps in the Brexit process on 27 March 2019; however, none of the proposals earned a majority in the indicative votes.[44] MPs also voted on four options on 1 April 2019 in the second round of indicative votes. Still, none of the proposals earned a majority.[45]
Those supporting Brexit are sometimes referred to as "Leavers".[46][47] Alternatively the term "Brexiteers",[48][49] or "Brexiters" has been used to describe adherents of the Leave campaign.[50][51][52][53] Likewise, the pejorative term "Brextremist", a portmanteau of "Brexiter" and "Extremist" has been used by some outlets to describe Leavers of an overzealous, uncompromising disposition.[54][55][56]
also Lexiter. A portmanteau of 'left-wing' and 'Brexit', referring to left-wing advocacy of EU withdrawal.[57][58][59][60]
Meaningful vote
A meaningful vote is a vote under section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, requiring the government to arrange for a motion proposing approval of the outcome of negotiations with the EU to be debated and voted on by the House of Commons before the European Parliament decides whether it consents to the withdrawal agreement being concluded on behalf of the EU in accordance with Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union.[61]
Managed no-deal
"Managed no-deal Brexit"[62] or "managed no deal Brexit"[63] was increasingly used near the end of 2018, in respect of the complex series of political, legal and technical decisions needed if there is no withdrawal agreement treaty with the EU when the UK exits under the Article 50 withdrawal notice. The Institute for Government has advised that the concept is unrealistic.[64]
No-deal Brexit
This means the UK would leave the European Union without a withdrawal agreement.[65]
Norway model/ Norway plus
This is shorthand for a model where the United Kingdom leaves the European Union but becomes a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Economic Area, possibly with the addition of a customs union ("plus"). EFTA and EEA membership would allow the UK to remain in the single market but without having to be subject to the Common Fisheries Policy, Common Agricultural Policy, and the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The UK would be subject to the EFTA court, which largely shadows the ECJ, have to transfer a large amount of EU law into UK law, and have little say on shaping EU rules (some of which the UK will be compelled to take on). The UK would also have to allow freedom of movement between the EU and UK, which was seen as a key issue of contention in the referendum.[66]
People's Vote
People's Vote is an advocacy group launched in April 2018, who calls for a public vote on the final Brexit deal. The People's Vote march is part of a series of demonstrations against Brexit.
Those in favour of the UK remaining in the EU are sometimes referred to as "Remainers".[67] The derogatory term "Remoaner" (a blend of "remainer" and "moan") is sometimes used by Brexiters to describe adherents of the Remain campaign.[68][50][52]
Second referendum
A second referendum (otherwise known as People's vote) has been proposed by a number of politicians and pressure groups. The Electoral Commission of UK has the responsibility for nominating lead campaign groups for each possible referendum outcome.[69]
Slow Brexit
The term ‘slow Brexit’ was first coined by British Prime Minister Theresa May on 25 March 2019 as she spoke to Parliament, warning MPs that Article 50 could be extended beyond 22 May, slowing down the Brexit process. A ‘slow Brexit’ implies a longer period of political uncertainty in which members of Parliament will debate the next steps of Britain's departure from the European Union.[70][71]

Background: the United Kingdom and Europe

The Inner Six (blue) and Outer Seven (green) of European integration in 1961

The "Inner Six" European countries signed the Treaty of Paris in 1951, establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The 1955 Messina Conference deemed that the ECSC was a success, and resolved to extend the concept further, thereby leading to the 1957 Treaties of Rome establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). In 1967, these became known as the European Communities (EC). The UK attempted to join in 1963 and 1967, but these applications were vetoed by the President of France, Charles de Gaulle.[72]

Accession and period of European Union membership

Some time after de Gaulle's relinquishing of the French presidency the UK successfully applied for EC membership, and the Conservative prime minister Edward Heath signed the Treaty of Accession in 1972.[73] Parliament passed the European Communities Act later that year[74] and the UK joined Denmark and Ireland in becoming a member of the EC on 1 January 1973.[75]

The opposition Labour Party won the February 1974 general election without a majority and then contested the subsequent October 1974 general election with a commitment to renegotiate Britain's terms of membership of the EC, believing them to be unfavourable, and then hold a referendum on whether to remain in the EC on the new terms.[76] Labour again won the election (this time with a small majority), and in 1975 the United Kingdom held its first ever national referendum, asking whether the UK should remain in the European Communities. Despite significant division within the ruling Labour Party,[77] all major political parties and the mainstream press supported continuing membership of the EC. On 5 June 1975, 67.2 per cent of the electorate and all but two[78] UK counties and regions voted to stay in;[79] support for the UK to leave the EC in 1975 appears unrelated to the support for Leave in the 2016 referendum.[80]

Comparison of results of 1975 and 2016 referendums

The Labour Party campaigned in the 1983 general election on a commitment to withdraw from the EC without a referendum,[81] although after a heavy defeat Labour changed its policy.[81] In 1985, the Thatcher government ratified the Single European Act—the first major revision to the Treaty of Rome—without a referendum.

In October 1990, under pressure from senior ministers and despite Margaret Thatcher's deep reservations, the United Kingdom joined the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), with the pound sterling pegged to the deutschmark. Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister the following month, amid Conservative Party divisions arising partly from her increasingly Eurosceptic views. The United Kingdom and Italy were forced to withdraw from the ERM in September 1992, after the pound sterling and the lira came under pressure from currency speculation ("Black Wednesday").[82]

Under the Maastricht Treaty, the European Communities became the European Union on 1 November 1993,[83] reflecting the evolution of the organisation from an economic union into a political union.[84] Denmark, France, and Ireland held referendums to ratify the Maastricht Treaty. In accordance with British constitutional convention, specifically that of parliamentary sovereignty, ratification in the UK was not subject to approval by referendum. Despite this, the British constitutional historian Vernon Bogdanor wrote at the time that there was "a clear constitutional rationale for requiring a referendum" because although MPs are entrusted with legislative power by the electorate, they are not given authority to transfer that power (the UK's previous three referendums all concerned the transfer of parliamentary powers). Further, as the ratification of the treaty was in the manifestos of the three major political parties, voters opposed to ratification had no way to express that opposition. For Bogdanor, while the ratification of the treaty by the House of Commons might be legal, it would not be legitimate—which requires popular consent. The way in which the treaty was ratified, he judged, was "likely to have fundamental consequences both for British politics and for Britain's relationship with the European Community."[85][86] This perceived democratic deficit directly led to the formation of the Referendum Party and the United Kingdom Independence Party.

Euroscepticism, opt-outs and 'outers'

Prime ministers and Tory leaders Thatcher (l.) and Cameron (r.) used eurosceptic rhetoric while being in favour of British EU membership and the development of the European Single Market. Euroscepticism—and in particular the impact of the UK Independence Party (founder and leader Farage pictured m.) on the Conservatives' election results—contributed to Cameron's 2015 attempt to renegotiate the UK's EU membership and ultimately the holding of the 2016 referendum.

Thatcher, who had supported the common market and the Single European Act, in the Bruges speech of 1988 warned against "a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels". She influenced Daniel Hannan, who in 1990 founded the Oxford Campaign for Independent Britain; "With hindsight, some see this as the start of the campaign for Brexit", Financial Times later wrote.[87] In 1994, Sir James Goldsmith formed the Referendum Party to contest the 1997 general election on a platform of providing a referendum on the nature of the United Kingdom's relationship with the rest of the European Union.[88][89] The party fielded candidates in 547 constituencies at that election, and won 810,860 votes—2.6 per cent of the total votes cast[90]—but failed to win a parliamentary seat due to the vote being spread across the country. The Referendum Party disbanded after Goldsmith's death in 1997.

The UK Independence Party (UKIP), a Eurosceptic political party, was formed in 1993. It achieved third place in the UK during the 2004 European elections, second place in the 2009 European elections and first place in the 2014 European elections, with 27.5 per cent of the total vote. This was the first time since the 1910 general election that any party other than Labour or the Conservatives had taken the largest share of the vote in a nationwide election.[91] UKIP's electoral success in the 2014 European election is documented as the strongest correlate of the support for the leave campaign in the 2016 referendum.[92]

UKIP won two by-elections (triggered by defecting Conservative MPs) in 2014; in the 2015 general election, the party took 12.6 per cent of the total vote and held one of the two seats won in 2014.[93]

Policy opt-outs of European Union member states

Country # of
Policy area
Schengen Area Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) Area of freedom, security and justice (AFSJ) Charter of Fundamental Rights Social Chapter
 Denmark 3 INT OO OO OO NO NO
 Ireland 2 OI NO NO OI NO NO
 Poland 1 NO NO NO NO OO NO
 United Kingdom 4 OI OO NO OI OO FO
  •  OI  — opt-in – possibility to opt in on a case-by-case basis.
  •  OO  – opt-out in place
  •  FO  – former opt-out that was subsequently abolished.
  •  INT  – participates on an intergovernmental basis, but not under EU law
  •  NO  – fully participating in policy area

Opinion polls 1977–2015

Both pro- and anti-EU views have had majority support at different times since 1977.[94] In the European Communities membership referendum of 1975, two-thirds of British voters favoured continued EC membership. There is Euroscepticism both on the left and right of British politics.[95][96][97]

According to a statistical analysis published in April 2016 by Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University, surveys showed an increase in Euroscepticism (defined as a wish to sever or reduce the powers of the EU) from 38% in 1993 to 65% in 2015. Euroscepticism should, however, not be confused with the wish to leave the EU: the BSA survey for the period July–November 2015 showed that 60 per cent backed the option to continue as an EU member and 30 per cent backed the option to withdraw.[98]

Referendum of 2016

Negotiations for membership reform

In 2012, Prime Minister David Cameron initially rejected calls for a referendum on the UK's EU membership,[99] but then suggested the possibility of a future referendum to endorse his proposed renegotiation of Britain's relationship with the rest of the EU.[100] According to the BBC, "The prime minister acknowledged the need to ensure the UK's [renegotiated] position within the European Union had 'the full-hearted support of the British people' but they needed to show 'tactical and strategic patience'."[101] On 23 January 2013, under pressure from many of his MPs and from the rise of UKIP, Cameron announced that a Conservative government would hold an in-or-out referendum on EU membership before the end of 2017, on a renegotiated package, if elected in the 7 May 2015 general election.[102] This was included in the Conservative Party manifesto for the election.[103][104]

The Conservative Party won the election with a majority. Soon afterwards, the European Union Referendum Act 2015 was introduced into Parliament to enable the referendum. Cameron favoured remaining in a reformed European Union, and sought to renegotiate on four key points: protection of the single market for non-eurozone countries, reduction of "red tape", exempting Britain from "ever-closer union", and restricting immigration from the rest of the European Union.[105]

In December 2015, opinion polls showed a clear majority in favour of remaining in the EU; they also showed support would drop if Cameron did not negotiate adequate safeguards[definition needed] for non-eurozone member states, and restrictions on benefits for non-British EU citizens.[106]

The outcome of the renegotiations was announced in February 2016. Some limits to in-work benefits for new EU immigrants were agreed, but before they could be applied, a member state such as the UK would have to get permission from the European Commission and then from the European Council, which is composed of the heads of government of every member state.[107]

In a speech to the House of Commons on 22 February 2016, Cameron announced a referendum date of 23 June 2016, and commented on the renegotiation settlement.[108] He spoke of an intention to trigger the Article 50 process immediately following a leave vote, and of the "two-year time period to negotiate the arrangements for exit."[109]

After the original wording for the referendum question was challenged,[110] the government agreed to change the official referendum question to "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?"

Campaign groups

A "Vote Leave" poster in Omagh, Northern Ireland, saying "We send the EU £50 million every day. Let's spend it on our NHS instead."

The official campaign group for leaving the EU was Vote Leave[111] after a contest for the designation with Leave.EU.[112][113] Vote Leave was later found to have exceeded its allowed spending limit during the campaign.[114]

The official campaign to stay in the EU, chaired by Stuart Rose, was known as Britain Stronger in Europe, or informally as 'Remain'. Other campaigns supporting remaining in the EU included Conservatives In,[115] Labour in for Britain,[116] #INtogether (Liberal Democrats),[117] Greens for a Better Europe,[118] Scientists for EU,[119] Environmentalists For Europe,[120] Universities for Europe[121] and Another Europe is Possible.[122]

Referendum result

The result was announced on the morning of 24 June: 51.89 per cent voted in favour of leaving the European Union, and 48.11 per cent voted in favour of remaining a member of the European Union.[123][124] Comprehensive results are available from the UK Electoral Commission Referendum Results site. A petition calling for a second referendum attracted more than four million signatures,[125][126] but was rejected by the government on 9 July.[127]

United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, 2016
National result
Choice Votes %
Leave the European Union 17,410,742 51.89%
Remain a member of the European Union 16,141,241 48.11%
Valid votes 33,551,983 99.92%
Invalid or blank votes 25,359 0.08%
Total votes 33,577,342 100.00%
Registered voters and turnout 46,500,001 72.21%
Voting age population and turnout 51,356,768 65.38%
Source: Electoral Commission
National referendum results (without spoiled ballots)
17,410,742 (51.9%)
16,141,241 (48.1%)
Results by Country of the United Kingdom/region of England (left) and by council district (GB) & UK Parliament constituency (NI) (right)

Voter demographics and trends

According to researchers based at the University of Warwick, areas with "deprivation in terms of education, income and employment were more likely to vote Leave". The Leave vote tended to be greater in areas which had lower incomes and high unemployment, a strong tradition of manufacturing employment, and in which the population had fewer qualifications.[128] It also tended to be greater where there was a large flow of Eastern European migrants (mainly low-skilled workers) into areas with a large share of native low-skilled workers.[128] Those in lower social grades (especially the 'working class') were more likely to vote Leave, while those in higher social grades (especially the 'upper middle class') more likely to vote Remain.[129]

According to Thomas Sampson, an economist at the London School of Economics, "Older and less-educated voters were more likely to vote 'leave' [...] A majority of white voters wanted to leave, but only 33 per cent of Asian voters and 27 per cent of black voters chose leave. There was no gender split in the vote [...] Leaving the European Union received support from across the political spectrum [...] Voting to leave the European Union was strongly associated with holding socially conservative political beliefs, opposing cosmopolitanism, and thinking life in Britain is getting worse".[5] Econometric studies show that "education and, to a lesser extent, age were the strongest demographic predictors of voting behaviour". Support for leaving was linked with "poor economic outcomes at the individual or area level" and with "self-reported opposition to immigration, but not with exposure to immigration".[5]

Opinion polls found that Leave voters believed leaving the EU was "more likely to bring about a better immigration system, improved border controls, a fairer welfare system, better quality of life, and the ability to control our own laws", while Remain voters believed EU membership "would be better for the economy, international investment, and the UK's influence in the world". Polls found that the main reasons people voted Leave were "the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK", and that leaving "offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders". The main reason people voted Remain was that "the risks of voting to leave the EU looked too great when it came to things like the economy, jobs and prices".[130]

Resignations, contests, and appointments

After the result was declared, Cameron announced that he would resign by October.[131] He stood down on 13 July 2016, with Theresa May becoming Prime Minister after a leadership contest. George Osborne was replaced as Chancellor of the Exchequer by Philip Hammond, former Mayor of London Boris Johnson was appointed Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and David Davis became Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn lost a vote of confidence among his parliamentary party, and an unsuccessful challenge of his leadership was launched. On 4 July, Nigel Farage announced his resignation as leader of UKIP.[132]


Irregularities have been alleged in the conduct of the referendum campaign.

On 11 May 2018, the UK Electoral Commission found against Leave.EU, which ran a separate campaign to the official pro-Brexit group Vote Leave, following its investigations into alleged irregularities during the referendum campaign.[133][134] Leave.EU's co-founder Arron Banks has stated that he rejects the outcome of the investigation and will be challenging it in court.[135]

In July 2018, the UK Electoral Commission found Vote Leave to have broken electoral law, spending over its limit.[136] Also, the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee released an interim report on Disinformation and ‘fake news’, stating that the largest donor in the Brexit campaign, Arron Banks, had "failed to satisfy" the Committee that his donations came from UK sources, and may have been financed by the Russian government.[137][138]


There has been litigation to explore the constitutional footings on which Brexit stands after R (Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (the Miller case) and the 2017 Notification Act:

  • In R. (Webster) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the High Court of Justice determined that the decision to leave the EU was an executive decision of the Prime Minister using a statutory power of decision found to have been delegated to her by the Notification Act.[better source needed] This case was criticised academically,[139] and it is also subject to an appeal.[140]
  • The confirmation that the decision was an executive act was part of the basis of R. (Wilson) v. Prime Minister[141] the impact irregularities in the referendum, which is the basis for the executive decision to leave, is being challenged, with a hearing on 7 December 2018.[clarification needed][142]
  • Regarding the reversibility of a notification under Article 50, Wightman and others v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union was referred to Court of Justice of the European Union;[143] the UK government sought to block this referral, taking the matter on appeal to the UK Supreme Court, but was unsuccessful.[144] On 10 December 2018, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that the UK could unilaterally revoke its Article 50 notification.[145]


Below is the timeline of major events concerning Brexit.[146]





  • 15 January: First meaningful vote held on the Withdrawal Agreement in the UK House of Commons. The UK Government is defeated by 432 votes to 202.[148]
  • 12 March: Second meaningful vote on the Withdrawal Agreement with the UK Government defeated again by 391 votes to 242.[149]
  • 14 March: 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.[150]
  • 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. However, the UK must hold European Parliament elections in May 2019 (it did); otherwise it will leave on 1 June 2019.[151][152]
  • 24 May: Theresa May announces that she will resign as Conservative Party leader, effective 7 June, due to being unable to pass her Brexit plans through parliament and several votes of no-confidence,[153] continuing as prime minister while a Conservative leadership contest takes place.
  • 18 July: MPs approve, with a majority of 41, an amendment that blocks suspension of Parliament between 9 October and 18 December, unless a new Northern Ireland Executive is formed.[154]
  • 24 July: Boris Johnson accepted the Queen's invitation to form a government and became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the third since the referendum.[155]
  • 25 July: Both Houses of Parliament went into summer recess on 25 July until 3 September (Lords[156] and Commons.[157]).

Article 50 process

Letter from Theresa May invoking Article 50


Withdrawal from the European Union is governed by Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. Under the Article 50 invocation procedure, a member notifies the European Council, whereupon the EU is required to "negotiate and conclude an agreement with [the leaving] State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the [European] Union". The negotiation period is limited to two years unless extended, after which the treaties cease to apply.[158] There was a discussion on whether parallel negotiation of withdrawal terms and future relationships under Article 50 are appropriate (Chancellor Merkel's initial view) or whether Britain did not have the right to negotiate future trade with the EU27 as this power is arguably reserved to the EU as long as the UK is a member (the view of a European Commission lawyer).[159]

Although the 2015 Referendum Act did not expressly require Article 50 to be invoked,[160] the UK government stated that it would expect a leave vote to be followed by withdrawal.[161][162] Following the referendum result, Cameron resigned and said that it would be for the incoming Prime Minister to invoke Article 50.[163][164]

The Supreme Court ruled in the Miller case in January 2017 that the government needed parliamentary approval to trigger Article 50.[165][166] Subsequently, the House of Commons overwhelmingly voted, on 1 February 2017, for a government bill authorising the prime minister to notify an intention to leave under Article 50,[167] and the bill passed into law as the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017. Theresa May then signed a letter invoking Article 50 on 28 March 2017, which was delivered on 29 March by Tim Barrow, the UK's ambassador to the EU, to European Council President Donald Tusk.[168][169][170]

It had been argued that the Article 50 withdrawal process could be halted unilaterally by the British government,[171] with which opinion the author of Article 50 itself, Lord Kerr, expressed agreement.[172] The European Parliament's Brexit committee said that unilateral revocation, regardless of its legality, poses a substantial moral hazard, with an EU member state potentially able to abuse it to blackmail the Union.[173]

The reversibility of notifications under Article 50 was subject to litigation, which a cross-party group of Scottish politicians and the Good Law Project referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union.[174] The UK government sought to block this referral, ultimately in the UK Supreme Court, but it was unsuccessful in this attempt.[175] On 10 December 2018, the ECJ ruled that a country could unilaterally cancel its withdrawal from the EU, by simple notice, provided that it did so prior to actual departure, unconditionally and in good faith.[176] However the Government's immediate response was that it had no intention of exercising that right.[176]

Both parties to the withdrawal negotiation are bound by Article 50 (3) of the Treaty, which states explicitly that the EU treaties will cease to apply "from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after" the withdrawal notification unless the EU Council and the UK agree to extend the two-year period.[177]

The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (as amended by a UK Statutory Instrument on 11 April 2019), in section 20 (1), defines 'exit day' as 11:00 p.m. on 31 October 2019.[178] Originally, 'exit day' was defined as 11:00 p.m. on 29 March 2019 GMT (UTC+0).[179][180][177][181][182]

Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration


First phase

The European Commission said that it would not start any negotiation before the UK formally invoked Article 50.[183] In October 2016, European Commission President Juncker said the EU should not negotiate in such a way that Britain would have to hold a second referendum.[184] On 28 June 2016, Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, and on the following day European Council President Tusk, stated that the UK could remain in the European Single Market (ESM) only if the UK accepted its four freedoms of movement: for goods, capital, services, and labour.[185] In October, Prime Minister Theresa May emphasised that ending the jurisdiction of EU law and free movement from Europe were the UK's priorities, along with British and EU companies having maximum freedom to trade in the UK and the ESM.[186][187]

In November 2016, May proposed that Britain and the other EU member states mutually guarantee the residency rights of the 3.3 million non-British EU citizens in the UK and those of the 1.2 million British citizens living in the rest of the European Union, in order to exclude their fates being bargained during Brexit negotiations.[188] Despite initial approval from a majority of EU states, May's proposal was blocked by Council President Tusk alongside member state Germany.[189]

In January 2017, the Prime Minister presented 12 negotiating objectives and confirmed that the UK government would not seek permanent single market membership.[190] She also called for an end to European Court of Justice jurisdiction, a new customs agreement excluding the common external tariff and the EU's common commercial policy, an end to free movement of people, co-operation in crime and terrorism, collaboration in areas of science and technology, engagement with devolved administrations, maintaining the Common Travel Area with Ireland, and preserving existing workers' rights. She also confirmed, "that the Government will put the final deal that is agreed between the UK and the EU to a meaningful vote in both Houses of Parliament, before it comes into force."[191] The European Parliament's lead negotiator Guy Verhofstadt responded that there could be no "cherry-picking" by the UK in the talks.[192]

The statutory period for negotiation began on 29 March 2017, when the UK formally submitted a letter notifying withdrawal. The letter called for a "deep and special relationship" between the UK and the EU, and warned that failure to reach an agreement would result in EU-UK trade under World Trade Organization terms, and a weakening of the UK's co-operation in the fight against crime and terrorism. The letter suggested prioritising an early deal on the rights of EU citizens in the UK and vice versa, and stated that the UK would not seek to remain within the ESM. Instead, the UK would seek a free trade agreement with the EU.[193] In response, Merkel insisted that the EU would not discuss future co-operation without first settling the terms of leaving the EU; Verhofstadt referred to the letter as "blackmail" with regard to the point on security and terrorism, and EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said the UK's decision to no longer be a part of the Union was a "choice they will regret one day".[194]

The UK and EU negotiators agreed that initial negotiations, relating especially to residency rights, would commence in June 2017 (immediately after the French presidential and parliamentary elections), and full negotiations, relating especially to trading agreements, could commence in October 2017 (immediately after the 2017 German federal election).[195][196][197] The first day of talks was 19 June.[196]

On 29 April 2017, immediately after the first round of French presidential elections, the remaining 27 member state heads of government accepted negotiating guidelines prepared by Tusk.[198] The guidelines took the view that Article 50 permitted a two-phased negotiation, in which the UK first agrees to a financial commitment and to lifelong benefits for EU citizens in Britain, and then negotiations on a future relationship could begin.[199] In the first phase, the member states would demand the UK pay a "divorce bill", initially estimated as amounting to £52bn[200] and then, after additional financial demands from Germany, France, and Poland, to £92bn.[201] A report of the European Union Committee of the British House of Lords, published on 4 March 2017, stated that if there were to be no post-Brexit deal at the end of the negotiating period, the UK could withdraw without payment.[202]

On 22 May 2017, the European Council authorised its negotiators to start the Brexit talks and it adopted its negotiating directives.[203] The first day of talks took place on 19 June, where Davis and Michel Barnier, European Chief Negotiator for Brexit, agreed to prioritise the question of residency rights, while Davis conceded that a discussion of the Northern Irish border would have to await future trade agreements.[204]

On 22 June 2017, Prime Minister May guaranteed that no EU citizen living legally in the UK would be forced to leave, and offered that any EU citizen who lived in the UK for more than five years until an unspecified deadline between March 2017 and March 2019 would enjoy the same rights as a UK citizen, conditional on the EU providing the same offer to British citizens living legally in the EU.[205] The Prime Minister detailed her residency proposals on 26 June, but drew no concessions from EU negotiators,[206] who had declined to expedite agreement on expatriates by the end of June 2017,[207] and who are hoping for European courts to continue to have jurisdiction in the UK with regards to EU citizens, according to their negotiation aims published in May 2017.[208][209]

The second round of negotiations began in mid-July 2017. Progress was made on the Northern Irish border question; UK negotiators requested a detailed breakdown of the "divorce bill" demand; and the EU negotiators criticised the UK's citizenship rights offer.[210] David Davis did not commit to a net payment by the UK to the EU with regards to the requested divorce bill, while Michel Barnier would not compromise on his demand for the European Court of Justice to have continuing jurisdiction over the rights of EU citizens living in the UK after Brexit,[211] rejecting the compromise proposal of a new international body made up of UK and EU judges.[212]

On 16 August 2017, the UK government disclosed the first of several papers detailing British ambitions following Brexit, discussing trade and customs arrangements.[213] On 23 August Theresa May announced that Britain would leave the EU Court of Justice's direct jurisdiction when the planned transition period ended, but that both the British courts and the EU Court of Justice would also keep "half an eye" on each other's rulings afterwards as well.[214] One of the UK government's position papers published in August called for no additional restrictions for goods already on the market in the UK and EU.[215]

The third round of negotiations began on 28 August 2017. There was disagreement over the financial settlement; The Irish Times explained that British negotiators referred to the seven-year Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF or Maff) for the period 2014–2020 agreed by member states and the European parliament as a "planning tool" for the next period rather than a legally-binding financial obligation on member states. The British case is that the MFF sets ceilings on spending under various headings and is later radically revised during the annual budget process when real legal obligations on each state arises. This contrasts with the EU Commission's methodology for calculating the UK Brexit bill which involves dividing the MFF into the shares historically agreed by each member state.[216] On the Irish border question there was a "breakthrough", with the British side guaranteeing free movement of EU citizens within the Common travel area constituting Ireland and the United Kingdom.[217]

On 5 September 2017, Davis said that "concrete progress" had been made over the summer in areas such as protecting the rights of British expats in the EU to access healthcare and over the future of the Irish border, while significant differences over the "divorce bill" remained.[218] On 9 September, the EU Commission published several negotiating papers, including one in which the EU concedes/declares that it is the responsibility of the UK to propose solutions for the post-Brexit Irish border. The paper envisages that a "unique" solution would be permissible here; in other words, any such exceptional Irish solution would not necessarily be a template for post-Brexit relationships with the other EU member states.[219]

On 22 September 2017, May announced further details of her Brexit proposal.[220][221] In addition to offering 20 billion euros over a two-year transition period and continued acceptance of European immigrants,[222] she also offered a "bold new security relationship" with the EU which would be "unprecedented in its depth" and to continue to make "an ongoing contribution" to projects considered greatly to the EU and UK's advantage, such as science and security projects.[221][220] She also confirmed that the UK would not "stand in the way" of Juncker's proposals for further EU integration.[221][220] Barnier welcomed May's proposal as "constructive,"[223] but that it also "must be translated into negotiating positions to make meaningful progress".[223] Similarly, President of France Emmanuel Macron was adamant that the EU would not begin negotiations on future EU-UK relationships until "the regulation of European citizens, the financial terms of the exit, and the questions of Ireland" were "clarified" by the UK.[224]

The fourth round of talks began on 25 September, with Barnier declaring he had no mandate from the EU27 to discuss a transition deal suggested by Prime Minister May. Davis reiterated that the UK could honour commitments made during its EU membership only in the context of a future "special partnership" deal with the EU.[225]

At the European Council meeting of 19/20 October 2017, the 27 leaders of the EU states were to decide whether or not to start trade negotiations with the UK.[215] However, Davis has conceded that so soon after the German elections on 24 September, a German coalition government may not be in place in time for making this decision in October, delaying any European Council decision until their December meeting.[226][227]

EU negotiators have stated that an agreement must be reached between Britain and the EU by October 2018 in order to leave time for national parliaments to endorse Brexit.[223]

On 9 October 2017, May announced to the British Parliament that Britain could operate as an "independent trading nation" after Brexit if no trade deal is reached with the EU.[228]

Second phase

In December 2017, EU leaders announced an agreement to begin the next phase of negotiations, with talks on a transition period after March 2019 to begin in early 2018 and discussions on the future UK–EU relationship, including trade and security, to begin in March.[229]

On 10 June 2018, the Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar cleared the path for the June negotiations by postponing the Irish border question until the final Brexit deal in October 2018.[230]

On 19 June 2018, the UK and the EU published a joint statement outlining agreements at the negotiators' level. Michel Barnier praised the "dedication and commitment" of the negotiating teams, and said progress had been made in issues like customs, VAT and the European nuclear agreement, Euratom.[231][232]

On 12 July 2018, Prime Minister May and part of the cabinet published a proposal for an agreement on future relations between the UK and EU. Its nickname came to be known by various British media outlets as the Chequers plan. It was finalised at a meeting of the UK Cabinet held at Chequers on 6 July. Brexit Secretary David Davis resigned over the agreement on 8 July,[233] while Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson followed him the next day,[234] saying that the government allowed "a fog of self-doubt" to fall on its negotiations.[235]


On 14 November 2018, a lengthy meeting of the Cabinet approved a Draft Withdrawal Agreement.[236][237] The following day, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, his Cabinet colleague Esther McVey and several junior ministers resigned their posts because of their disagreement with the contents of the document.[238]

On 19 December 2018, the EU Commission announced its "no-deal" Contingency Action Plan in specific sectors, in respect of the UK leaving the European Union "in 100 days' time."[239]

In the wake of the United Kingdom's vote to leave the European Union, the Department for International Trade (DIT) for striking and extending trade agreements between the UK and non-EU states was created by Prime Minister Theresa May, shortly after she took office on 13 July 2016.[240] By 2017, it employed about 200 trade negotiators[241] and was overseen by the Secretary of State for International Trade, currently Liam Fox. In March 2019, the UK government announced that it would cut many import tariffs to zero, in the event of a no-deal Brexit.[242] The Confederation of British Industry said the move would be a "sledgehammer for our economy",[243][244][245] and the National Farmer's Union was also highly critical.[246] Additionally, the plan appears to breach standard WTO rules.[247][243][248][249][250][251]


UK Government's legal advice

Following an unprecedented vote on 4 December 2018, MPs ruled that the UK government was in contempt of parliament for refusing to provide to Parliament, the full legal advice it had been given on the effect of its proposed terms for withdrawal.[252] The key point within the advice covered the legal effect of the "backstop" agreement governing Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the UK, in regard to the customs border between the EU and UK, and its implications for the Good Friday agreement which had led to the end of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and specifically, whether the UK would be certain of being able to leave the EU in a practical sense, under the draft proposals.

The following day, the advice was published. The question asked was, "What is the legal effect of the UK agreeing to the Protocol to the Withdrawal Agreement on Ireland and Northern Ireland in particular its effect in conjunction with Articles 5 and 184 of the main Withdrawal Agreement?" The advice given was that:[252]

The Protocol is binding on the UK and EU [para 3], and anticipates a final future resolution of the border and customs issues being reached [para 5,12,13]. But "the Protocol is intended to subsist even when negotiations have clearly broken down" [para 16] and "In conclusion, the current drafting of the Protocol ... does not provide for a mechanism that is likely to enable the UK lawfully to exit the UK wide customs union without a subsequent agreement. This remains the case even if parties are still negotiating many years later, and even if the parties believe that talks have clearly broken down and there is no prospect of a future relationship agreement." [para 30]

Delay of vote on Withdrawal Agreement

On 10 December 2018, the Prime Minister postponed the vote in the House of Commons on her Brexit deal. The announcement came minutes after the Prime Minister's Office confirmed the vote would be going ahead.[253] Faced with the prospect of a defeat in the House of Commons, this option gave May more time to negotiate with Conservative backbenchers and the EU, even though they had ruled out further discussions.[254] The decision was met with calls from many Welsh Labour MPs for a motion of no confidence in the Government.[255] The Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, described the government as being in "disarray".

The European Research Group, the segment of the Conservative Party that favours a "hard" Brexit, opposed the Prime Minister's proposed Withdrawal Agreement treaty. Its members objected strongly to the Withdrawal Agreement's inclusion of the Irish backstop.[256][257] ERG members also objected to the proposed £39 billion financial settlement with the European Union and stated that the agreement would result in the UK's agreement to continuing to follow EU regulations in major policy areas; and to the continuing jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice over interpretation of the agreement and of European law still applicable to the UK.[258][259]

Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK ambassador to the EU at the time of the 2016 referendum, publicly commented on 13 December 2018 that the EU was always adroit at reframing things that have already been agreed, such as the Irish backstop, in ways that "make the medicine slip down".[260]

Vote on Withdrawal Agreement

On 15 January 2019, the House of Commons voted 432 to 202 against the deal, which was the largest majority against a United Kingdom government ever.[261][262][263] Soon after, a motion of no confidence in Her Majesty's Government was tabled by the opposition,[264] which was rejected by 325 votes to 306.[265]

Second vote on Withdrawal Agreement

On 24 February, Theresa May announced that the next vote on the withdrawal agreement would be on 12 March 2019, 17 days away from Brexit.[266] The deal was voted against 391 to 242, a loss of 149 votes down from 230 from when the deal was proposed in January.[267]



On 20 March 2019, the Prime Minister Theresa May wrote to European Council President Donald Tusk requesting that Brexit be postponed until 30 June 2019.[268] On 21 March 2019, May presented her case to a European Council summit meeting in Brussels. After May left the meeting, a discussion amongst the remaining EU leaders resulted in the rejection of 30 June date and offered instead a choice of two new alternative Brexit dates. On 22 March 2019, the extension options were agreed between the UK government and the European Council.[178] The first alternative offered was that if MPs rejected May's deal in the next week, Brexit would be due to occur by 12 April 2019, with, or without, a deal—or alternatively another extension be asked for and a commitment to participate in the 2019 European Parliament elections given. The second alternative offered was that if MPs approved May's deal, Brexit would be due to occur on 22 May 2019. The later date was the day before the start of European Parliament elections.[269] After the government deemed unwarranted the concerns over the legality of the proposed change (due to its containing two possible exit dates) the previous day,[270][271] on 27 March 2019 both the Lords (without a vote)[272] and the Commons (by 441 to 105) approved the statutory instrument changing the exit date to 22 May 2019 if a withdrawal deal is approved, or 12 April 2019 if it is not.[273] The amendment was then signed into law at 12:40 p.m. the next day.[178]

Third vote on Withdrawal Agreement

On 18 March 2019, the Speaker informed the House of Commons that a third meaningful vote could only be held on a motion that was significantly different from the previous one, citing parliamentary precedents going back to 1604.[274]

The Withdrawal Agreement was brought back to the House without the attached understandings on 29 March.[275] The Government's motion of support for the Withdrawal Agreement was lost by 344 votes to 286, a loss of 58 votes down from 149 from when the deal was proposed on 12 March.[276]


Following the failure of UK Parliament to approve the Withdrawal Agreement by 29 March, the UK was now legally due to leave the EU on 12 April 2019. On 10 April 2019, late-night talks in Brussels resulted in another extension to 31 October 2019; Theresa May had again only requested an extension until 30 June. Under the terms of this new extension, if the Withdrawal Agreement is passed before October, Brexit would occur on the first day of the subsequent month. However, the UK would now be obligated to hold European Parliament elections in May, or leave the EU on 1 June without a deal.[151][152]

Other post-referendum political developments

Domestic legislation after Article 50 notification

European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018

In October 2016, Theresa May promised a "Great Repeal Bill", which would repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and restate in UK law all enactments previously in force under EU law. Subsequently renamed the European Union (Withdrawal) bill, it was introduced to the House of Commons on 13 July 2017.[277]

On 12 September 2017, the bill passed its first vote and second reading by a margin of 326 votes to 290 votes in the House of Commons.[278] The bill was further amended on a series of votes in both Houses of Parliament. After the Act became law on 26 June 2018, the European Council decided on 29 June to renew its call on Member States and Union institutions to step up their work on preparedness at all levels and for all outcomes.[279]

The Withdrawal Act fixed the period ending 21 January 2019 for the government to decide on how to proceed if the negotiations have not reached agreement in principle on both the withdrawal arrangements and the framework for the future relationship between the UK and EU; while, alternatively, making future ratification of the withdrawal agreement as a treaty between the UK and EU depend upon the prior enactment of another act of Parliament for approving the final terms of withdrawal when the current Brexit negotiations are completed. In any event, the act does not alter the two-year period for negotiating allowed by Article 50 that ends at the latest on 29 March 2019 if the UK has not by then ratified a withdrawal agreement or agreed a prolongation of the negotiating period.[179]

The Withdrawal Act which became law in June 2018 allows for various outcomes including no negotiated settlement. It authorises the government to bring into force, by order made under section 25, the provisions that fix "exit day" and the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972, but exit day must be the same day and time as when the EU Treaties are to cease to apply to the UK.[280]

Additional government bills

A report published in March 2017 by the Institute for Government commented that, in addition to the European Union (Withdrawal) bill, primary and secondary legislation will be needed to cover the gaps in policy areas such as customs, immigration and agriculture.[281] The report also commented that the role of the devolved legislatures was unclear, and could cause problems, and as many as 15 new additional Brexit Bills may be required, which would involve strict prioritisation and limiting Parliamentary time for in-depth examination of new legislation.[282]

In 2016 and 2017, the House of Lords published a series of reports on Brexit-related subjects, including:


The Nuclear Safeguards Bill 2017–19, relating to withdrawal from Euratom, was presented to Parliament in October 2017 and began its Report Stage in January 2018.[283]

Voting on the final outcome

Replying to questions at a parliamentary committee about Parliament's involvement in voting on the outcome of the negotiations with the EU, the Prime Minister said that "delivering on the vote of the British people to leave the European Union" was her priority. The shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, commented that the government did not want a vote at the beginning of the process, to trigger Article 50, nor a vote at the end.[284]

2017 British general election

A general election was held on 8 June 2017, announced at short notice by the new Prime Minister Theresa May. The Conservative Party, Labour and UKIP made manifesto pledges to implement the referendum, although the Labour manifesto differed in its approach to Brexit negotiations, such as unilaterally offering permanent residence to EU immigrants.[285][286][287][288] The Liberal Democrat Party and the Green Party manifestos proposed a policy of remaining in the EU via a second referendum.[289][290][291] The Scottish National Party manifesto proposed a policy of waiting for the outcome of the Brexit negotiations and then holding a referendum on Scottish independence.[292][293] Compared to the 2015 general election, the Conservatives gained votes (but nevertheless lost seats and their majority in the House of Commons). Labour gained significantly on votes and seats, retaining its position as the second-largest party. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin also made gains in votes and seats. Parties losing votes included the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Greens, and especially UKIP.[294]

On 26 June 2017, Conservatives and the DUP reached a confidence and supply agreement whereby the DUP would back the Conservatives in key votes in the House of Commons over the course of the parliament. The agreement included additional funding of £1 billion for Northern Ireland, highlighted mutual support for Brexit and national security, expressed commitment to the Good Friday Agreement, and indicated that policies such as the state pension triple lock and Winter Fuel Payments would be maintained.[295]

Public opinion

Opinion polling tended to show a plurality of support for Brexit after the referendum and until the 2017 General Election. Since then, opinion polls have tended to show a plurality of support for remaining in the EU or for the view that Brexit was a mistake. This seems to be largely due to a preference for remaining in the EU among those who did not vote in 2016's referendum (an estimated 2 million of whom, as of March 2019, were too young to vote at the time[296]).[297] In March 2019, a petition submitted to the UK Parliament petitions website, calling on the government to revoke Article 50 and stay in the European Union, reached a record-level of six million signatures.[298][299]


Whether the UK leaves with a withdrawal agreement or alternatively without any withdrawal agreement ("no-deal" Brexit) will affect future impacts, particularly in connection with the location of EU agencies and the regulation and control of cross-border outward and inward movements of persons and animals, of goods for export and import, and of financial and other transactions.[65]


According to a 2016 study by Ken Mayhew, Emeritus Professor of Education and Economic Performance at Oxford University, Brexit posed the following threats to higher education: "loss of research funding from EU sources; loss of students from other EU member states; the impact on the ability of the sector to hire academic staff from EU member states; and the impact on the ability of UK students to study abroad."[300] The UK received more from the European agencies and institutions for research than it financially contributed[301][302] with universities getting just over 10% of their research income from the European agencies and institutions.[303] All funding for net beneficiaries from European agencies and institutions, including universities, was guaranteed by the British government in August 2016.[304] Before the funding announcement, a newspaper investigation reported that some research projects were reluctant to include British researchers due to uncertainties over funding.[305] Currently the UK is part of the European Research Area and the UK is likely to wish to remain an associated member.[306]

Border between the UK and Republic of Ireland

The UK/Republic of Ireland border crosses this road at Killeen (near Newry), marked only by a speed limit in km/h. (Northern Ireland uses mph.)

There is concern about whether the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland becomes a "hard border" with customs and passport checks on the border,[307] and whether this could affect the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland.[308][309][310] In order to forestall this the European Union proposed a "backstop agreement" within the Withdrawal Agreement that would put Northern Ireland under a range of EU rules in order to forestall the need for border checks. Although the UK government has signed off on proposals including the backstop, it regards the idea of having EU rules applying in Northern Ireland only as a threat to the integrity of the UK, and also does not want the UK as a whole to be subject to EU rules and the customs union indefinitely.[311]

Until October 2019, both the UK and Ireland will be members of the EU, and therefore both are in the Customs Union and the Single Market. There is freedom of movement for all EU nationals within the Common Travel Area and there are no customs or fixed immigration controls at the border. Since 2005, the border has been essentially invisible.[312] Following Brexit, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will become a land border between the EU and a non-EU state which may entail checks on goods at the border or at Irish ports, depending on the co-operation and alignment of regulations between the two sides. It is therefore possible that the border will return to being a "hard" one, with fewer, controlled, crossing posts and a customs infrastructure. Both the EU and the UK have agreed this should be avoided.[313] A February 2019 report by Irish Senator Mark Daly and two UNESCO chairmen indicated that reinstating a hard border would result in the return of violence.[314]

In March 2019, the UK government announced that it would not perform customs checks at the Irish border after a no-deal Brexit and acknowledged that that might present a smuggling risk.[247][315][316] On 17 March the President of Ireland signed into law the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Act 2019.[317]

Border with France

The President of the Regional Council of Hauts-de-France, Xavier Bertrand, stated in February 2016 that "If Britain leaves Europe, right away the border will leave Calais and go to Dover. We will not continue to guard the border for Britain if it's no longer in the European Union," indicating that the juxtaposed controls would end with a leave vote. French Finance Minister Emmanuel Macron also suggested the agreement would be "threatened" by a leave vote.[318] These claims have been disputed, as the Le Touquet 2003 treaty enabling juxtaposed controls was not an EU treaty, and would not be legally void upon leaving.[319]

After the Brexit vote, Xavier Bertrand asked François Hollande to renegotiate the Le Touquet agreement,[320] which can be terminated by either party with two years' notice.[321] Hollande rejected the suggestion, and Bernard Cazeneuve, the French Interior Minister, confirmed there would be "no changes to the accord."[322]

Economic effects

Economists expect that Brexit will have damaging immediate and longer term effects on the economies of the UK and at least part of the 27 other EU member states. In particular, there is a broad consensus among economists and in the economic literature that Brexit will likely reduce the UK's real per capita income in the medium and long term, and that the Brexit referendum itself damaged the economy.[b][323] Studies on effects since the referendum show a reduction in GDP, trade and investment, as well as household losses from increased inflation.


According to one study, the referendum result had pushed up UK inflation by 1.7 percentage points in 2017, leading to an annual cost of £404 for the average British household.[324] Studies published in 2018, estimated that the economic costs of the Brexit vote were 2.1% of GDP,[325][326] or 2.5% of GDP.[327] According to a December 2017 Financial Times analysis, the Brexit referendum results had reduced national British income by between 0.6% and 1.3%.[328] A 2018 analysis by Stanford University and Nottingham University economists estimated that uncertainty around Brexit reduced investment by businesses by approximately 6 percentage points and caused an employment reduction by 1.5 percentage points.[329] A number of studies found that Brexit-induced uncertainty about the UK's future trade policy reduced British international trade from June 2016 onwards.[330][331][332][333][334] A 2019 analysis found that British firms substantially increased offshoring to the European Union after the Brexit referendum, whereas European firms reduced new investments in the UK.[335][336]

In the long term

There is overwhelming or near-unanimous agreement among economists that leaving the European Union will adversely affect the British economy in the medium- and long-term.[c][323] Surveys of economists in 2016 showed overwhelming agreement that Brexit would likely reduce the UK's real per-capita income level.[7][8][9] 2019 and 2017 surveys of existing academic research found that the credible estimates ranged between GDP losses of 1.2–4.5% for the UK,[323] and a cost of between 1–10% of the UK's income per capita.[5] These estimates differ depending on whether the UK exits the EU with a hard Brexit or soft Brexit.[5] In January 2018, the UK government's own Brexit analysis was leaked; it showed that UK economic growth would be stunted by 2–8% in total over the 15 years following Brexit, the amount depending on the leave scenario.[337][338]

According to most economists, EU membership has a strong positive effect on trade and as a result the UK's trade would be worse off if it left the EU.[339][340][341][342] According to a study by University of Cambridge economists, under a "hard Brexit" whereby the UK reverts to WTO rules, one-third of UK exports to the EU would be tariff-free, one-quarter would face high trade barriers and other exports risk tariffs in the range of 1–10%.[343] A 2017 study found that "almost all UK regions are systematically more vulnerable to Brexit than regions in any other country."[344] A 2017 study examining the economic impact of Brexit-induced reductions in migration" found that there would likely be "a significant negative impact on UK GDP per capita (and GDP), with marginal positive impacts on wages in the low-skill service sector."[345][5] It is unclear how changes in trade and foreign investment will interact with immigration, but these changes are likely to be important.[5]

With Brexit, the EU would lose its second-largest economy, the country with the third-largest population and "the financial capital of the world", as the German newspaper Münchner Merkur put it.[346] Furthermore, the EU would lose its second-largest net contributor to the EU budget (2015: Germany €14.3 billion, United Kingdom €11.5 billion, France €5.5 billion).[347] Thus, the departure of Britain would result in an additional financial burden for the remaining net contributors, unless the budget is reduced accordingly: Germany, for example, would have to pay an additional €4.5 billion for 2019 and again for 2020; in addition, the UK would no longer be a shareholder in the European Investment Bank, in which only EU members can participate. Britain's share amounts to 16%, €39.2 billion (2013), which Britain would withdraw unless there is an EU treaty change.[348]

All the remaining EU members (as well as Switzerland, Norway and Iceland) will also likely experience adverse effects (albeit smaller effects than the UK), in particular Ireland, the Netherlands and Belgium.[349][350][351]

In the short term

Short-term macroeconomic forecasts by the Bank of England and other banks of what would happen immediately after the Brexit referendum were too pessimistic.[11][352] The assessments assumed that the referendum results would create greater uncertainty in markets and reduce consumer confidence more than it did.[352] A number of economists noted that short-term macroeconomic forecasts are generally considered unreliable and that they are something that academic economists do not do, unlike banks.[353][354][352][5][11] Economists have compared short-term economic forecasts to weather forecasts whereas the long-term economic forecasts are akin to climate forecasts: the methodologies used in long-term forecasts are "well-established and robust".[352][353][5][355]

Regional inequality in UK

Studies on the economic impact that different forms of Brexit will have on different parts of the country indicate that Brexit will exacerbate regional economic inequality in the UK, as already struggling regions will be hardest hit by Brexit.[356]

UK financial sector

Economists have warned that London's future as an international financial centre depends on whether the UK will obtain passporting rights for British banks from the European Union. If banks located in the UK cannot obtain passporting rights, they have strong incentives to relocate to financial centres within the EU.[357][358] According to John Armour, Professor of Law and Finance at Oxford University, "a 'soft' Brexit, whereby the UK leaves the EU but remains in the single market, would be a lower-risk option for the British financial industry than other Brexit options, because it would enable financial services firms to continue to rely on regulatory passporting rights."[358]


According to a 2017 study by the University of Exeter and Chatham House researchers, there are considerable benefits for the UK to be integrated into the European energy market. The study notes, "if the UK wants to enjoy the economic benefits of remaining part of what is an increasingly integrated European electricity market then, as European legislation is currently drafted, it will not only have to forgo an element of autonomy through accepting legislation and regulations made collectively at the EU level, but it will also lose much of its voice in that decision making process, effectively becoming a rule-taker rather than a rule-maker."[359]

European Union institutions

Council of the European Union

Analyses indicate that the departure of the relatively economically liberal UK will reduce the ability of remaining economically liberal countries to block measures in the Council of the European Union.[360][361] According to the Lisbon Treaty (2009), decisions of the Council are made by qualified majority voting, which means that a majority view can be blocked should at least four members of the Council, representing at least 35% of the population of the Union, choose to do so. In many policy votes, Britain, allied with other northern EU allies (Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, the Scandinavian and the Baltic states), had a blocking minority of 35%.[362][363]

European Parliament

UK MEPs are expected to retain full rights to participate in the European Parliament up to the Article 50 deadline. However, there have been discussions about excluding UK MEPs from key committee positions.[364]

The EU will need to decide on the revised apportionment of seats in the European Parliament in time for the next European Parliament election to be held in May 2019 (with the parliamentary term starting in June), when the United Kingdom's 73 MEPs will have vacated their seats. In April 2017, a group of European lawmakers discussed what should be done about the vacated seats. One plan, supported by Gianni Pittella and Emmanuel Macron, is to replace the 73 seats with a pan-European constituency list; other options which were considered include dropping the British seats without replacement, and reassigning some or all of the existing seats from other countries to reduce inequality of representation.[365][366]


The combined EU fishing fleets land about 6 million tonnes of fish per year,[367] of which about 3 million tonnes are from UK waters.[368] The UK's share of the overall EU fishing catch is only 750,000 tonnes (830,000 tons).[369] This proportion is determined by the London Fisheries Convention of 1964 and by the EU's Common Fisheries Policy. The UK government announced in July 2017 that it would end the 1964 convention in 2019. Loss of access to UK waters will particularly affect the Irish fishing industry which obtains a third of its catch there.[370]

According to an analysis by researchers at Wageningen University and Research, Brexit would lead to higher prices in seafood for consumers (because the UK imports most of its seafood). British fishermen would be able to catch more fish, but the price for UK fish would decline. As a result, the analysis found that Brexit would result in a "lose-lose situation" for both the UK and the EU, and for both British consumers and the fishing industry.[371] According to a 2018 study, "Brexit poses a major challenge to the stability of European fisheries management. Until now, neighbouring EU Member States have shared the bounty of the living resources of the seas around Britain. Taking full responsibility for the regulation of fisheries within the UK's Exclusive Economic Zone will cut across longstanding relationships, potentially putting at risk recent recovery and future sustainability of shared fish stocks."[372]

Gibraltar and Spain

Cars crossing into Gibraltar clearing customs formalities. Gibraltar is outside the customs union, VAT area and Schengen Zone.

Gibraltar is outside the European Union's common customs area and common commercial policy and so has a customs border with Spain. Nevertheless, the territory remains within the European Union until Brexit is complete.

During the Brexit referendum campaign, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar warned that Brexit posed a threat to Gibraltar's safety.[373] Gibraltar voted overwhelmingly (96 per cent) to remain in the EU. After the result, Spain's Foreign Minister renewed calls for joint Spanish–British control of the peninsula.[374] These calls were strongly rebuffed by Gibraltar's Chief Minister[375] and questions were raised over the future of free-flowing traffic at the Gibraltar–Spain border.[376] The UK government states it will only negotiate on the sovereignty of Gibraltar with the consent of its people.[377]

In February 2018, Sir Joe Bossano, Gibraltar's Minister for Enterprise, Training, Employment and Health and Safety (and former Chief Minister) expressed frustration at the EU's attitude, suggesting that Spain was being offered a veto, adding "It's enough to convert me from a supporter of the European Union into a Brexiteer".[378]

In April 2018, Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said that the Spanish had a long-term aim of "recovering" Gibraltar, but that Spain would not hold Gibraltar as a "hostage" to the EU negotiations.[379] In 2018, a new Spanish government stated that its policy on the issue remained unchanged.[380]


A 2019 study in the Lancet suggested that Brexit would have an adverse impact on health in the UK under every Brexit scenario, but that a no-deal Brexit would have the worst impact.[381] The study found that Brexit would deplete the National Health Service (NHS) workforce, create uncertainties regarding care for British nationals living in the EU, and put at risk access to vaccines, equipment, and medicines.[381]

Legal system

The UK's exit from the European Union will leave Ireland and Cyprus as the only two remaining common law jurisdictions in the EU. Paul Gallagher, a former Attorney General of Ireland, has suggested this will isolate those countries and deprive them of a powerful partner that shared a common interest in ensuring that EU legislation was not drafted or interpreted in a way that would be contrary to the principles of the common law.[382] Lucinda Creighton, a former Irish government minister for legal affairs, has said that Ireland relies on the "bureaucratic capacity of the UK" to understand, influence and implement EU legislation.[383]


Studies estimating the long-term impact of Brexit on immigration note that many factors affect future migration flows but that Brexit and the end of free movement will likely result in a large decline in immigration from EEA countries to the UK.[384][385] The Migration Policy Institute estimated immediately after the referendum that the UK "would continue to receive 500,000 or more immigrants (from EU and non-EU countries taken together) per year, with annual net migration around 200,000".[386] The decline in EEA immigration is likely to have an adverse impact on the British health sector.[387] According to the New York Times, Brexit "seems certain" to make it harder and costlier for the NHS, which already suffers from chronic understaffing, to recruit nurses, midwives and doctors from the rest of Europe.[387]

Official figures for June 2017 (published in February 2018) showed that net non-British EU immigration to the UK slowed to about 100,000 immigrants per year (corresponding to the immigration level of 2014) while immigration from outside the European Union increased. Taken together, the two inflows into the UK resulted in an only slightly reduced net immigration of 230,000 newcomers in the year to June 2017. The Head of the Office of National Statistics suggested that Brexit could well be a factor for the slowdown in EU immigration, but cautioned there might be other reasons.[388] The number of non-British EU nurses registering with the NHS fell from 1,304 in July 2016 to 46 in April 2017.[389]

Since the referendum, British citizens have attempted to ensure their retention of EU citizenship via a number of different mechanisms, including applying to other EU member states for citizenship,[390][391] and petitioning the European Commission.[392]

Currently, EEA sportspersons face minimal bureaucracy to play or perform in the UK. After Brexit, any foreigner wanting to do so more than temporarily could need a work permit. Such work permits can be tricky to obtain, especially for young or lower ranked players. Conversely, British nationals playing in EEA states may encounter similar obstacles where none exist today.[393][394]

Moving agencies

Brexit requires the offices and staff of the European Medicines Agency and European Banking Authority, currently based in London, to move out of the UK.[395] The agencies, which together employ more than 1,000 people, twwill respectively move to Amsterdam and Paris.[396] The EU is also considering restricting the clearing of euro-denominated trades to eurozone jurisdictions, which would end London's dominance in this sector.[397]



Flights between the UK and the 27 EU countries are enshrined into the European Common Aviation Area. The UK Government's aviation guidance document states that post-Brexit: "UK and EU licensed airlines would lose the automatic right to operate air services between the UK and the EU without seeking advance permission. This would mean that airlines operating between the UK and the EU would need to seek individual permissions to operate."[398] The loss of automatic access to the European Common Aviation Area will affect airlines; for instance a British registered airline cannot operate intra-EU flights, nor can a European registered airline operate domestic UK flights. Some British airlines created European divisions to resolve the issue. The European Aviation Safety Agency will no longer cover UK airlines.[399] In the event of a No Deal Brexit, UK aviation would be seriously impaired, with higher fares and less options for British flyers.[400]

The UK has sought to replace the existing ECAA partnerships that the EU has with 17 non-EU countries. By the end of 2018, the UK had concluded individual air service agreements (ASA) with the United States,[401] Canada[401] Switzerland,[402] Albania, Georgia, Iceland, Israel, Kosovo, Montenegro and Morocco. Flights to and from these countries will continue as scheduled post-Brexit.[398]

The UK has separate bilateral air service agreements (ASA) with 111 countries, which permit flights to and from the country. As a result, there will be no change post-Brexit for airlines operating in these countries.[398]


The French minister for European Affairs, Nathalie Loiseau, said in September 2018 that trains in the Channel Tunnel may no longer be allowed into France in the event of a no-deal Brexit.[403] Discussions were carried out in October between the British Department for Transport and the rail transport authorities of France, Belgium and the Netherlands.[404] A temporary authorisation for three months was agreed in February 2019, ensuring transport continuity in the event of a no-deal Brexit.[405]

Road traffic

The Vienna Convention on Road Traffic is written by the UN, not the EU, allowing road traffic between the UK and EU even without a deal.

The UK will remain in the European Common Transit Convention (CTC) after Brexit.[406] This would apply to any new trading relationship with the EU, including after exit with no Withdrawal Agreement treaty.[407] The CTC applies to moving goods between the EU member states, the EFTA countries (Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland) as well as Turkey, Macedonia and Serbia. The CTC, with its supplementary Convention on the Simplification of Formalities in the Trade of Goods, reduces administrative burdens on traders by removing the need for additional import/export declarations when transiting customs territories, and provides cash flow benefits by allowing the movement of goods across a customs territory without the payment of duties until the final destination.[408]

In the event of a "no-deal" Brexit, the number of permits available to haulage drivers will be "severely limited": the Department for Transport proposes to allocate these by lottery.[409] Even with a customs union, the experience of Turkish hauliers suggests that significant difficulties and delays will occur both at the border and within some countries.[410]


Ferries will continue, but with obstacles such as customs checks.[411] New ferry departures between the Republic of Ireland and the European mainland have been established in anticipation of the Great Britain land bridge becoming congested, mainly with France, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands.[411]


First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon addresses journalists over Brexit and Scotland's place within Europe at Bute House.

As suggested by the Scottish Government before the referendum,[412] the First Minister of Scotland announced that officials were planning an independence referendum due to the result of Scotland voting to remain in the European Union when England and Wales voted to leave.[413] In March 2017, the SNP leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon requested a second Scottish independence referendum in 2018 or 2019 (before Britain's formal exit from the EU).[414] The UK Prime Minister immediately rejected the requested timing, but not the referendum itself.[415] The referendum was approved by the Scottish Parliament on 28 March 2017. Sturgeon called for a "phased return" of an independent Scotland back to the EU.[416]

After the referendum, First Minister Sturgeon suggested that Scotland might refuse consent for legislation required to leave the EU,[417] though some lawyers argued that Scotland cannot block Brexit.[418]

On 21 March 2018, the Scottish Parliament passed the Scottish Continuity Bill.[419] This was passed due to stalling negotiations between the Scottish Government and the British Government on where powers within devolved policy areas should lie after exit day from the European Union. This Act allows for all devolved policy areas to remain within the remit of the Scottish Parliament and reduces the executive power upon exit day that the UK Withdrawal Bill provides for Ministers of the Crown.[420] The bill was referred to the supreme court which found that it could not come into force as the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which received royal assent between the Scottish parliament passing its bill and the supreme court's judgement, designated itself under schedule 4 of the Scotland Act 1998 as unamendable by the Scottish Parliament.[421] The bill has therefore not received royal assent.[422]


Concerns have been raised that Brexit might create security problems for the UK. In particular in law enforcement and counterterrorism where the UK could use the European Union's databases on individuals crossing the British border. Security experts have credited the EU's information-sharing databases with helping to foil terrorist plots. British leaders have expressed support for retaining access to those information-sharing databases, but it could be complicated to obtain that access as a non-member of the EU. Brexit would also complicate extradition requests. Under a hard Brexit scenario, the UK would lose access to basic law enforcement tools, such as databases comprising European plane travel records, vehicle registrations, fingerprints and DNA profiles.[423]

UK bilateral international agreements

The Financial Times said that there were approximately 759 international agreements, spanning 168 non-EU countries, that the UK would no longer be a party to upon leaving the EU.[424] This figure does not include World Trade Organization or United Nations opt-in accords, and excludes "narrow agreements", which may also have to be renegotiated.[424]

UK-EU relationship post-Brexit

The UK's post-Brexit relationship with the European Union could take several forms. A research paper presented to the UK Parliament in July 2013 proposed a number of alternatives to being a member state which would continue to allow access to the EU internal market. These include remaining in the European Economic Area,[425] negotiating deep bilateral agreements on the Swiss model,[425] or exit from the EU without EEA membership or a trade agreement under the WTO Option. There may be an interim deal between the time the UK leaves the EU and when the final relationship comes in force.

UK relations with CANZUK countries

Pro-Brexit activists and politicians have argued for negotiating trade and migration agreements with the "CANZUK" countries—those of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.[426][427] Numerous academics have criticised this alternative for EU membership as "post-imperial nostalgia".[428][429][430] Economists note that distance reduces trade, a key aspect of the gravity model of trade, which means that even if the UK could obtain similar trade terms with the CANZUK countries as it had as part of the Single Market, it would be far less valuable to the UK.[431][432][433]

World Trade Organization

Questions have arisen over how existing international arrangements with the EU under World Trade Organization (WTO) terms should evolve. Some countries—such as Australia and the United States—wish to challenge the basis for division (i.e., division between the UK and the continuing European Union) of the trade schedules previously agreed between them and the EU, because it reduces their flexibility.[434]

Cultural references

Anti-Brexit protesters in Manchester
Düsseldorf carnival parade in February 2018

Brexit has inspired many creative works, such as murals, sculptures, novels, plays, movies and video games. The response of British artists and writers to Brexit has in general been negative, reflecting a reported overwhelming percentage of people involved in Britain's creative industries voting against leaving the European Union.[435]

See also



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Further reading

External links

Relating to court cases