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Brexit timeline: From 2013 referendum promise to a 2020 exit

UK News | Published:

Here are some of the key moments in the long-running Brexit saga.

On January 31 the UK will finally leave the European Union after years of tense negotiations, many resignations, and a controversial prorogation.

– May 7 2015
The Tories unexpectedly make sweeping gains over Ed Miliband’s Labour Party and secure a majority in the Commons. Mr Cameron vows to deliver his manifesto pledge for an EU referendum.

– June 23 2016
The UK votes to leave the EU in a shock result that saw 52% of the public support Brexit in a humiliating defeat for the Prime Minister. Mr Cameron quickly resigns, saying: “I don’t think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination.”

– July 13 2016
Theresa May takes over as Prime Minister. Mrs May, who had backed Remain, promises to “rise to the challenge” of negotiating the UK’s exit.

Theresa May becomes PM
(Hannah McKay/PA)

– March 29 2017
Mrs May triggers Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. European Council president Donald Tusk said it was not a happy occasion, telling a Brussels press conference his message to the UK was: “We already miss you. Thank you and goodbye.”

– April 18 2017
Mrs May announces a snap general election to be held on June 8. Justifying the decision, she said: “The country is coming together but Westminster is not.” The Prime Minister said “division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit”.

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– June 8 2017
Humiliation for Mrs May as she loses her Commons majority after her election gamble backfires. She becomes head of a minority Conservative administration propped up by the Democratic Unionist Party.

– September 22 2017
In a crucial Brexit speech in Florence, Mrs May sends a message to EU leaders by saying: “We want to be your strongest friend and partner as the EU and UK thrive side by side.” She said she was proposing an “implementation period” of “around two years” after Brexit when existing market access arrangements will apply.

– December 8 2017
The European Commission announces it is recommending to the European Council that “sufficient progress” has been made in the first phase of Brexit talks. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker tells a press conference in Brussels that negotiations had been “difficult” for the EU and the UK.

The announcement came after Mrs May and Brexit Secretary David Davis made an early-hours journey to Brussels. Mrs May said the Brexit deal was a “significant improvement” which had required give and take on both sides, and said it would ensure “no hard border” in Ireland.

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– March 19 2018
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier says that he and Mr Davis have made a “decisive step” towards agreeing a joint legal text on the UK’s EU withdrawal. He said there were still outstanding issues relating to the Irish border, saying: “We are not at the end of the road and there is a lot of work still to be done.”

– June 19 2018
Britain and the European Union publish a joint statement outlining the progress that has been made since negotiations in March. Brussels warns that serious differences remain over how to deal with the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic after Brexit.

– July 6 2018
A crunch Cabinet meeting at Chequers agrees Mrs May’s new Brexit plans, including the creation of a new UK-European Union free trade area for goods. But not all who attend are happy with the compromises.

– July 8 and July 9 2018
Brexit Secretary David Davis resigns from the Government. In his resignation letter he tells Mrs May “the current trend of policy and tactics” is making it “look less and less likely” that the UK will leave the customs union and single market. The following day Boris Johnson quits as Foreign Secretary, claiming the plans mean “we are truly headed for the status of colony” of the EU.

David Davis
(Stefan Rousseau/PA)

– November 15 2018
Dominic Raab resigns as Brexit Secretary, saying he “cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU”. More resignations follow, including Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey. Leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg submits a letter of no confidence in Mrs May.

– November 25 2018
The 27 European Union leaders endorse the Brexit deal.

– December 12 2018
Mrs May survives an attempt by Tory MPs to oust her with a vote of no confidence. Tory MPs voted by 200 to 117 in the secret ballot in Westminster.

– January 15 2019
MPs reject Mrs May’s Brexit plans by an emphatic 432 votes to 202 in a historic vote which throws the future of her administration and the nature of the UK’s EU withdrawal into doubt.

– January 16 2019
Mrs May survives an attempt to oust her as Prime Minister, as MPs reject Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s motion of no confidence in the Government by a margin of 325 to 306.

Brexit protester
(Victoria Jones/PA)

– March 14 2019
MPs vote to delay Brexit in dramatic parliamentary scenes which saw the Conservative Party split down the middle. More than half of Tory MPs – including seven Cabinet ministers, at least 33 other ministers and whips, and five party vice-chairs – voted against Mrs May’s motion to put back the date when Britain leaves the EU.

– March 20 2019
Mrs May tells the House of Commons that that she has written to Donald Tusk to request an extension to the Article 50 Brexit negotiations to June 30. Mrs May describes the delay to Brexit as a “matter of great personal regret”, adding: “It is now time for MPs to decide.”

– March 29 2019
MPs reject Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement by 286 votes to 344, majority 58, on the day when the UK was due to leave the European Union.

– April 10 2019
A “flexible extension” to Brexit is agreed until October 31. Mrs May says the “choices we now face are stark and the timetable is clear”.

– May 21 2019
Mrs May says there is “one last chance” to help MPs deliver the result of the 2016 referendum, as she offered a “new Brexit deal”. She said a failure to reach agreement on Brexit would lead to a “nightmare future of permanently polarised politics”.

– May 23 2019
The UK votes in the European elections which Mrs May hoped would never have had to be held. Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party come out on top, while the pro-EU Liberal Democrats also make gains.

– May 24 2019
Mrs May announces she is standing down as Tory party leader on Friday June 7. She said: “It is and will always remain a matter of deep regret to me that I have not been able to deliver Brexit.”

– July 23 2019
Boris Johnson is elected as leader of the Conservative Party and becomes the UK’s new Prime Minister after defeating Jeremy Hunt. Mr Johnson secured 92,153 of the vote compared to 46,656 for Mr Hunt.

Boris Johnson
(Dominic Lipinski/PA)

– August 20 2019
Mr Johnson is rebuffed by Brussels after demanding major changes in a new Brexit deal. European Council president Donald Tusk defended the backstop – the contingency plan to keep the Irish frontier open – and warned that those seeking to replace it would risk a return to a hard border.

– August 28 2019
The Queen is dragged into the Brexit row as Mr Johnson requests the prorogation of Parliament. Mr Corbyn says the Prime Minister’s plan to suspend Parliament is “an outrage and a threat to our democracy”. The Queen approves an order to prorogue Parliament no earlier than September 9 and no later than September 12, until October 14.

– September 3 2019
Mr Johnson says Parliament is “on the brink of wrecking any deal” with Brussels after MPs voted to give a cross-party alliance control of the Commons agenda in a bid to block a no-deal Brexit on October 31.

– September 4 2019
MPs including 21 rebel Tories voted to approve legislation aimed at preventing a no-deal Brexit. The Benn Act compelled the Prime Minister to ask Brussels for an Article 50 extension to the end of January 2020 if MPs did not back a deal by October 19.

Boris Johnson, who had repeatedly ruled out requesting any further delay, accused them of having “scuppered” negotiations. He withdrew the whip from the rebels in a major purge. Among those exiled were former chancellors Philip Hammond and Sir Kenneth Clarke, and Winston Churchill’s grandson, Sir Nicholas Soames.

The PM attempted to trigger an early general election but failed because he did not win the required support of two thirds of MPs.

– September 10 2019
Mr Johnson’s second attempt to trigger an early general election fails after his motion did not secure the required support of two-thirds of MPs, with the Commons voting 293 to 46.

– September 17 2019
A legal battle over Mr Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament for five weeks begins at the UK’s highest court. The Supreme Court in London hears appeals from two separate challenges brought in England and Scotland to the prorogation of Parliament over three days.

– September 24 2019
The Supreme Court rules that Mr Johnson’s advice to the Queen to suspend Parliament until October 14 was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating Parliament.

– October 2 2019
Boris Johnson puts forward his formal Brexit plan to the EU revealing his blueprint to solve the Irish border issue and says it is a compromise, but European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker says there are “still problematic points”.

EU Summit
Boris Johnson and Jean-Claude Juncker (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

– October 17 2019
After intense negotiations, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces the UK has reached a “great deal” with the EU that “takes back control” and means that “the UK can come out of the EU as one United Kingdom – England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, together”.

But the DUP says it cannot support the deal in Parliament, citing a series of objections over the integrity of the union and Northern Ireland’s economy.

– October 19 2019
The first Saturday sitting of the Commons in 37 years was set to see MPs hold a “meaningful vote” on the new deal and the pressure was particularly high because it was also the deadline for the PM to ask for an extension under the Benn Act.

But MPs instead voted for an amendment tabled by exiled Tory Sir Oliver Letwin to compel Mr Johnson to comply with the Benn Act requesting a delay to Brexit.

Mr Johnson got a senior diplomat to send Brussels an unsigned copy of a letter asking for the delay, with a cover note stressing his detachment from the move. He dispatched a second note to European Council president Donald Tusk saying the extension would be “deeply corrosive.”

– October 22 2019
Boris Johnson mounted an attempt to fast-track his Brexit deal through Parliament. This required two votes: one on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) to implement the deal and another on the accelerated timetable.

The WAB was approved in principle at its first hurdle when MPs voted 329 to 299 for it. But the blow came when they rejected the hasty timetable by 322 to 308. The PM put his plans on ice by saying he would “pause” the WAB until the EU makes a decision on granting a delay.

– October 28 2019
EU leaders agreed to a Brexit “flextension” until January 31 unless Parliament ratifies the deal sooner.

– October 29 2019
Boris Johnson succeeded in winning support for a general election on December 12.

– December 12 2019
Having campaigned on a promise to “get Brexit done”, Mr Johnson secured a landslide win at the election and with a comfortable 80-seat majority is able to command the Commons in a way Mrs May never could.

– January 8 2020
New European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen visits Downing Street for talks with Mr Johnson. She made clear that the timetable for a Brexit trade deal was “very, very tight” and it would be “impossible” to agree everything by December 31. But Mr Johnson was clear there would be no extension to the transition period, which expires at the end of 2020.

– January 9 2020
Mr Johnson gets his Brexit deal through the Commons as the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill is given a third reading with a majority of 99. Downing Street warns peers not to hamper the progress of the legislation as it heads to the Lords.

– January 31 2020
A special Cabinet meeting outside London, a clock counting down the moments until Brexit on the walls of Downing Street and the Union Flag flying in Parliament Square will herald the UK’s departure from the European Union.

At 11pm the UK leaves the bloc but further wrangling with Brussels will continue on the terms of a trade deal due to be signed by the end of the year.

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