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(withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union)
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Part of a series of articles on the
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European Union
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Brexit (/ˈbrɛksɪt, ˈbrɛɡzɪt/;[1] a portmanteau of "British" and "exit") is the scheduled withdrawal of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU). Following a June 2016 referendum, in which 51.9% voted to leave, the UK government formally announced the country's withdrawal in March 2017, starting a two-year process that was due to conclude with the UK withdrawing on 29 March 2019. As the UK parliament thrice voted against the negotiated withdrawal agreement, that deadline has been extended twice, and is currently 31 October 2019.[2][3] The 'Benn Act' that passed in parliament required the government to seek a third extension.

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

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

In March 2019, the UK parliament voted for May to ask the EU to delay Brexit until October. Having failed to pass her agreement, May resigned as Prime Minister in July and was succeeded by Boris Johnson. He sought to replace parts of the agreement and vowed to leave the EU by the new deadline, with or without an agreement. On 17 October 2019, the UK government and EU agreed a revised withdrawal agreement, with new arrangements for Northern Ireland.[4][5] Parliament approved the new agreement, but rejected plans to pass it into law before the 31 October deadline, and forced the government (through the 'Benn Act') to ask for a third Brexit delay.

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


Below is a timeline of major events concerning Brexit.[19]




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


  • 15 January: The First meaningful vote is held on the Withdrawal Agreement in the UK House of Commons. The UK Government is defeated by 432 votes to 202.[21]
  • 12 March: The Second meaningful vote on the Withdrawal Agreement with the UK Government is defeated again by 391 votes to 242.[22]
  • 14 March: The UK Government motion passes 412 to 202 to extend the Article 50 period.
  • 20 March: Theresa May requests the EU extend the Article 50 period until 30 June 2019.
  • 21 March: The European Council offers to extend the Article 50 period until 22 May 2019 if the Withdrawal Agreement is passed by 29 March 2019 but, if it does not, then the UK has until 12 April 2019 to indicate a way forward. The extension is formally agreed the following day.
  • 29 March: The original end of the Article 50 period and the original planned date for Brexit. Third vote on the Withdrawal Agreement after being separated from the Political Declaration. UK Government defeated again by 344 votes to 286.
  • 5 April: Theresa May requests for a second time that the EU extend the Article 50 period until 30 June 2019.[23]
  • 10 April: The European Council grants another extension to the Article 50 period to 31 October 2019, or the first day of the month after that in which the Withdrawal Agreement is passed, whichever comes first. However, the UK must hold European Parliament elections in May 2019 (it did); otherwise it will leave on 1 June 2019.[24][25]
  • 24 May: Theresa May announces that she will resign as Conservative Party leader, effective 7 June, due to being unable to get her Brexit plans through parliament and several votes of no-confidence,[26] continuing as prime minister while a Conservative leadership contest takes place.
  • 18 July: MPs approve, with a majority of 41, an amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 that blocks suspension of Parliament between 9 October and 18 December, unless a new Northern Ireland Executive is formed.[27]
  • 4 July: Boris Johnson accepts the Queen's invitation to form a government and becomes Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the third since the referendum.[28]
  • 5 July: Both Houses of Parliament go into summer recess on 25 July until 3 September.[29][30]
  • 28 August: Boris Johnson announces his intention to end the current session of Parliament in September. The Queen would deliver a speech from the throne on 14 October to begin a new session. This was controversial because it would limit the time for Parliament to pass legislation ahead of the Article 50 deadline of 31 October.[31] The Queen approved the timetable at a meeting of the Privy Council at Balmoral.[32]
  • 3 September: A motion for an emergency debate to pass a bill that would rule out a unilateral no-deal Brexit by forcing the Government to get parliamentary approval for either a withdrawal agreement or a no-deal Brexit. This motion, to allow the debate for the following day, passed by 328 to 301. 21 Conservative MPs voted for the motion.
  • 4 September: The Benn Bill passed second reading by 329 to 300; a 22nd Conservative, Caroline Spelman, voted against the Government position. Later the same day, MPs rejected Johnson's motion to call an October general election by a vote of 298 to 56, which failed to achieve the two-thirds Commons majority needed under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. Labour MPs abstained from the vote.
  • 9 September: The Government again loses an attempt to call an election under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. Dominic Grieve's humble address, requiring key Cabinet Office figures to publicize private messages about the prorogation of parliament, is passed by the House of Commons. Speaker John Bercow announces his intention to resign as Speaker of the House of Commons on or before 31 October. The Benn Bill receives Royal Assent and becomes the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019. Parliament is prorogued until 14 October 2019. Party conference season begins, with anticipation building around a general election.
  • 24 September: The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom rules unanimously that Boris Johnson's decision to advise the Queen to prorogue parliament was unlawful, and that the prorogation itself is therefore null and of no effect.[33][34][35]
  • 2 October: The Government publishes a white paper outlining a new plan to replace the Irish backstop, involving regulatory alignment across the island of Ireland but retaining a customs border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.[36]
  • 7 October: The Outer House of the Court of Session in Edinburgh dismisses a case brought by Remainers, including Joanna Cherry, who had previously succeeded in the Court of Session and then in the UK Supreme Court. In this case, they sought a court order compelling Boris Johnson to write the letter requesting an extension that could be required by the Benn Act, in view of statements by Johnson and his representatives which it was claimed indicate that they might attempt to circumvent the Act. The Court accepted an assurance to it by the government's lawyers that Johnson would write the required letter. The Court also dismissed a request for an order preventing the government from frustrating the Benn Act, for example by asking another EU member state to veto a requested Brexit extension, after the government's lawyers undertook to the Court that no such action would be taken. There is to be an appeal to the Inner House of the Court of Session. Separately in the Inner House, the Remainer team are requesting a ruling that, if such a letter comes to be required and Johnson fails to write it, the Court will write the letter itself—an unusual procedure that is available only in Scotland.[37][38]
  • 9 October: The Inner House delays its decision until 21 October, stating: "Until the time for sending the letter has arrived, the PM has not acted unlawfully, whatever he and his officials are reported to have said privately or in public. The situation remains fluid. Over the next two weeks, circumstances will inevitably change.”[39]
  • 14 October: Parliament returns for the Queen's Speech.[40]
  • 17 October: The UK and European Commission agree on a revised withdrawal agreement containing a new protocol on Northern Ireland.[41][42] The European Council endorses the deal.[43]
  • 19 October: A special Saturday sitting of Parliament is held to debate the revised withdrawal agreement.[44][45] The prime minister moves approval of that agreement. However, MPs pass by 322 to 306 Sir Oliver Letwin's amendment to the motion, delaying consideration of the agreement until the legislation to implement it has been passed; the motion is then carried as amended, implementing Letwin's delay.[46] This delay activates the Benn Act, requiring the prime minister immediately to write to the European Council with a request for an extension of withdrawal until 31 January 2020.[47][48]
  • 19 October: Prime minister Boris Johnson sends two letters to the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk: one, which is stated to be from the UK prime minister but is not signed, refers to the requirements of the Benn Act and requests an extension until 31 January 2020; the other, signed personally by Johnson and copied to all Council members, states that it is his own belief that a delay would be a mistake and requests support from the president and Council members for his continuing efforts to ensure withdrawal without an extension. The letters are delivered by the British permanent representative in Brussels, together with a cover note signed by himself which affirms that the first letter complies with the Benn Act.[49][50][51]
  • 21 October: The Speaker refuses the government's request for a new vote on the withdrawal proposal, applying the convention that a motion that is the same "in substance" as an earlier one cannot be brought back during the course of a single parliamentary session.[52][53]
  • 21 October: In the Inner House of the Court of Session, the Remainers concede that Johnson has fulfilled the requirement of the Benn Act that he write seeking seek an extension, but contend that his second letter negates the first. The Court refuses the government's request to dismiss the case, deciding that the case should remain before the court “until it is clear that the obligations under [the Benn Act] have been complied with in full”. On 7 October, government lawyers had undertaken to the Outer House that Johnson will abide by all requirements of the Act. These include responding to the EU's reaction to his letter. Any breach of that undertaking could place Johnson in contempt of the Court.[54]
  • 21 October: The government introduces the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill[55] in the House of Commons with the long title "A Bill to Implement, and make other provision in connection with, the agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union which sets out the arrangements for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU".[56]
  • 22 October: The EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill is approved (second reading) by 329 votes to 299, but the accompanying "programme motion", to get all stages of the bill completed in three days and thus before 31 October, is defeated by 322 votes to 308 after MPs object that this would not allow time for adequate consideration. In Brussels, EU Council president Donald Tusk says he will recommend to the Council that it approve the UK's request for an extension.[57][58]
  • 31 October: scheduled Brexit date; deadline 24:00 in the Brussels timezone, which is 23:00 British time.

Terminology and etymology

In the wake of the referendum of 23 June 2016, many new pieces of Brexit-related jargon have entered popular use.[59][60]

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.[61]

Accession and period of European Union membership

Some time after de Gaulle resigned as president of France in 1969, the UK successfully applied for EC membership, and the Conservative prime minister Edward Heath signed the Treaty of Accession in 1972.[62] Parliament passed the European Communities Act later that year[63] and the UK joined Denmark and Ireland in becoming a member of the EC on 1 January 1973.[64]

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.[65] Labour again won the election (this time with a small majority), and in 1975 the UK held its first ever national referendum, asking whether the UK should remain in the EC. Despite significant division within the ruling Labour Party,[66] all major political parties and the mainstream press supported continuing membership of the EC. On 5 June 1975, 67.2 percent of the electorate and all but two[67] UK counties and regions voted to stay in;[68] support for the UK to leave the EC in 1975 appears unrelated to the support for Leave in the 2016 referendum.[69]

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,[70] although after a heavy defeat Labour changed its policy.[70] In 1985, the second Margaret Thatcher government ratified the Single European Act—the first major revision to the Treaty of Rome—without a referendum.[citation needed]

In October 1990, under pressure from senior ministers and despite Thatcher's deep reservations, the UK 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 UK 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").[71]

Under the Maastricht Treaty, the EC became the EU on 1 November 1993,[72] reflecting the evolution of the organisation from an economic union into a political union.[73] 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 [EC]."[74][75] This perceived democratic deficit directly led to the formation of the Referendum Party and the UK Independence Party.[citation needed]

Euroscepticism, opt-outs and 'outers'

Margaret Thatcher
Nigel Farage
David Cameron
Conservative prime ministers Thatcher (left) and Cameron (right) used Eurosceptic rhetoric while being in favour of the UK's membership and the development of the European Single Market. Euroscepticism—and in particular the impact of the UK Independence Party (founder and former leader Farage pictured centre) 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.[76] 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 UK's relationship with the rest of the EU.[77][78] The party fielded candidates in 547 constituencies at that election, and won 810,860 votes—2.6 per cent of the total votes cast[79]—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.[citation needed]

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.[80] 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.[81]

UKIP won two by-elections (triggered by defecting Conservative MPs) in 2014; in the 2015 general election, the party took 12.6 percent of the total vote and held one of the two seats won in 2014.[82]

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.[83] In the EC 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.[84][85][86]

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 percent backed the option to withdraw.[87]

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,[88] but then suggested the possibility of a future referendum to endorse his proposed renegotiation of Britain's relationship with the rest of the EU.[89] According to the BBC, "The prime minister acknowledged the need to ensure the UK's [renegotiated] position within the [EU] had 'the full-hearted support of the British people' but they needed to show 'tactical and strategic patience'."[90] 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.[91] This was included in the Conservative Party manifesto for the election.[92][93]

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 EU, 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 EU.[94]

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.[95]

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.[96]

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.[97] 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."[98]

After the original wording for the referendum question was challenged,[99] 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?"

Referendum result

The result was announced on the morning of 24 June: 51.89 percent voted in favour of leaving the EU, and 48.11 percent voted in favour of remaining a member of the EU.[100][101] After the result was declared, Cameron announced that he would resign by October.[102] He stood down on 13 July 2016, with Theresa May becoming Prime Minister after a leadership contest. A petition calling for a second referendum attracted more than four million signatures,[103][104] but was rejected by the government on 9 July.[105]

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.[106] 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.[106] 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.[107]

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".[7] 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".[7]

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".[108]


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 (simply known as 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,[109] and it is also subject to an appeal.[110]
  • The confirmation that the decision was an executive act was part of the basis of R. (Wilson) v. Prime Minister[111] 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][112]
  • 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;[113] the UK government sought to block this referral, taking the matter on appeal to the UK Supreme Court, but was unsuccessful.[114] On 10 December 2018, the Court of Justice of the EU ruled that the UK could unilaterally revoke its Article 50 notification.[115]

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, which was introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon at the insistence of the United Kingdom. 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.[116] 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 27 remaining countries of the EU (also known as 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).[117]

Although the 2015 Referendum Act did not expressly require Article 50 to be invoked,[118] the UK government stated that it would expect a leave vote to be followed by withdrawal.[119][120] Following the referendum result, Cameron resigned and said that it would be for the incoming Prime Minister to invoke Article 50.[121][122]

The UK Supreme Court ruled in the Miller case in January 2017 that the government needed parliamentary approval to trigger Article 50.[123][124] 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,[125] 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.[126][127][128]

It had been argued that the Article 50 withdrawal process could be halted unilaterally by the British government,[129] an opinion with which the author of Article 50 itself, Lord Kerr, expressed agreement.[130] 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.[131]

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 EU (ECJ).[132] The UK government sought to block this referral, ultimately in the UK Supreme Court, but it was unsuccessful in this attempt.[133] 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.[134] However, the Government's immediate response was that it had no intention of exercising that right.[134]

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.[135]

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.[136] Originally, 'exit day' was defined as 11:00 p.m. on 29 March 2019 GMT (UTC+0).[137][138][135][139][140]

UK-EU negotiations

Prior to the negotiations, May said that the UK government would not seek permanent single market membership,[141] end ECJ jurisdiction, seek a new customs agreement, end to free movement of people, and maintain the Common Travel Area with Ireland, among other things.[142] The EU had adopted its negotiating directives in May,[143] and appointed Michael Barnier as Chief Negotiator.[144] The EU wished to perform the negotiations in two phases, 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.[145] In the first phase, the member states would demand the UK pay a "divorce bill", initially estimated as amounting to £52 billion.[146] EU negotiators said that an agreement must be reached between UK and the EU by October 2018.[147]

Negotiations started on 19 June 2017, the first day of talks.[148] Negotiating groups were established for three topics: the rights of EU citizens living in Britain and vice versa; Britain's outstanding financial obligations to the EU; and the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.[149][150][151] In December 2017, a partial agreement was reached. The deal ensured that there would be not hard border in Ireland, protected the rights of UK citizens in EU and EU citizens in UK, and estimated the financial settlement to be £35-39 billion.[152] May stressed that "Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed".[153] Following the agreement, EU leaders agreed to move on to second phase in the negotiations, discussion the future relationship, a transition period and a possible trade deal.[154]

In March 2018, a 21-month transition period and the terms for it was provisionally agreed.[155] In June 2018, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said it that there have been little progress on the Irish border question, where EU has proposed a backstop to come into effect, if no overall trade deal had been reached by the end of the transition period. He said that it was not likely that there would be a solution before the whole deal is agreed.[156] In July 2018, the UK government published the Chequers plan, their aims for the future relationship to be reached in the negotiations. The plan sought to keep UK access to the single market for goods, but not necessarily for services, while allowing UK to have an independent trade policy.[157] The plan caused cabinet resignations, including Brexit Secretary David Davis[158] and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.[159]

On 13 November 2018, negotiations ended when the UK government and EU agreed on the text of the proposed withdrawal agreement.[160]

Withdrawal agreement

On 14 November 2018, a lengthy meeting of the Cabinet approved a Draft Withdrawal Agreement.[161][162] 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.[163]

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.[164] 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:[164]

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]

Attempted ratification

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.[165] 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.[166] The decision was met with calls from many Welsh Labour MPs for a motion of no confidence in the Government.[167] The Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, described the government as being in "disarray".[citation needed]

The European Research Group (ERG), a staunchly anti-EU grouping in Conservative Party, opposed the Prime Minister's proposed Withdrawal Agreement treaty. Its members objected strongly to the Withdrawal Agreement's inclusion of the Irish backstop.[168][169] ERG members also objected to the proposed £39 billion financial settlement with the EU 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 ECJ over interpretation of the agreement and of European law still applicable to the UK.[170][171]

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.[172][173][174] Soon after, a motion of no confidence in Her Majesty's Government was tabled by the opposition,[175] which was rejected by 325 votes to 306.[176]

On 24 February, Prime Minister May announced that the next vote on the withdrawal agreement would be on 12 March 2019, 17 days away from Brexit.[177] The deal was voted against 391 to 242, a loss of 149 votes down from 230 from when the deal was proposed in January.[178]

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.[179]

The Withdrawal Agreement was brought back to the House without the attached understandings on 29 March.[180] 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.[181]



On 20 March 2019, the Prime Minister wrote to European Council President Tusk requesting that Brexit be postponed until 30 June 2019.[182] 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.[136] 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.[183] 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,[184][185] on 27 March 2019 both the Lords (without a vote)[186] 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.[187] The amendment was then signed into law at 12:40 p.m. the next day.[136]


Following the failure of the UK Parliament to approve the Withdrawal Agreement by 29 March, the UK was required to leave the EU on 12 April 2019. On 10 April 2019, late-night talks in Brussels resulted in a further 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 were to be passed before October, Brexit would occur on the first day of the subsequent month. However, the UK would be obligated to hold European Parliament elections in May, or leave the EU on 1 June without a deal.[24][25]

Third (potential)

The UK Parliament passed an Act, the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019, which received Royal Assent on 9 September 2019, obliging the Prime Minister to seek a third extension if no agreement has been reached at the next European Council meeting in October 2019.[188] In order for such an extension to be granted if it is requested by the Prime Minister, it would be necessary for there to be unanimous agreement by all other heads of EU governments.[189]

Revised withdrawal agreement

On 17 October 2019, following "tunnel talks" between UK and EU,[190] a revised withdrawal agreement was agreed on negotiators level, and endorsed by the UK government and the EU Commission.[191] The revised deal contained a new Northern Ireland Protocol, as well as technical modifications to related articles.[192] In addition, the political declaration was also revised.[193] The revised deal and the political declaration was endorsed by the European Council later that day.[194] To come into effect, it needs to be ratified by the European Parliament and the UK parliament.[195]

Parallel 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.[196]

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.[197] 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.[198]

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.[137]

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.[199]

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.[200] 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.[201]

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

Nuclear Safeguards Act 2018

The Nuclear Safeguards Act 2018, relating to withdrawal from Euratom, was presented to Parliament in October 2017. The act makes provision about nuclear safeguards, and for connected purposes. The Secretary of State may by regulations (“nuclear safeguards regulations”) make provision for the purpose of — (a) ensuring that qualifying nuclear material, facilities or equipment are only available for use for civil activities (whether in the UK or elsewhere), or (b) giving effect to provisions of a relevant international agreement.[202]

2017 British general election

A general election was held on 8 June 2017, announced at short notice by the new Prime Minister 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.[203][204][205][206] The Liberal Democrat Party and the Green Party manifestos proposed a policy of remaining in the EU via a second referendum.[207][208][209] The Scottish National Party (SNP) manifesto proposed a policy of waiting for the outcome of the Brexit negotiations and then holding a referendum on Scottish independence.[210][211] 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.[212]

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.[213]

Public opinion

Opinion polling overall showed an initial fall in support for Brexit from the referendum to late 2016, when responses were split evenly between support and opposition. Support rose again to a plurality 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, with the estimated margin increasing until a small decrease in 2019 (to 53% Remain : 47% Leave, as of October 2019).[214] 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 2.5 million of whom, as of October 2019, were too young to vote at the time[215]).[216] Other reasons suggested include slightly more Leave voters than Remain voters changing how they would vote (particularly in Labour areas) and the deaths of older voters,[214] most of whom voted to leave the EU. One estimate of demographic changes (ignoring other effects) implies that were an EU referendum to take place in October 2019, there would be between 800,000 and 900,000 fewer Leave voters and between 600,000 and 700,000 more Remain voters, which would result in a Remain majority.[215]

In March 2019, a petition submitted to the UK Parliament petitions website, calling on the government to revoke Article 50 and stay in the EU, reached a record-level of over six million, one hundred thousand signatures.[217][218]

No-deal planning

On 19 December 2018, the EU Commission announced its "no-deal" Contingency Action Plan in specific sectors, in respect of the UK leaving the EU "in 100 days' time."[219]

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 May, shortly after she took office on 13 July 2016.[220] By 2017, it employed about 200 trade negotiators[221] and was overseen by then Secretary of State for International Trade 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.[222] The Confederation of British Industry said the move would be a "sledgehammer for our economy",[223][224][225] and the National Farmer's Union was also highly critical.[226] Additionally, the plan appeared to breach standard WTO rules.[227][223][228][229][230][231]


Many effects of Brexit depend on whether the UK leaves with a withdrawal agreement, or before an agreement is ratified ("no-deal" Brexit), particularly in connection with 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.[232] 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.[233] This figure does not include WTO or United Nations opt-in accords, and excludes "narrow agreements", which may also have to be renegotiated.[233]


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."[234] The UK received more from the European agencies and institutions for research than it financially contributed[235][236] with universities getting just over 10% of their research income from the European agencies and institutions.[237] All funding for net beneficiaries from European agencies and institutions, including universities, was guaranteed by the British government in August 2016.[238] Currently, the UK is part of the European Research Area and the UK is likely to wish to remain an associated member.[239]

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.)

The United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland have been part of the Common Travel Area since before the EU was formed. This allows their citizens freedom of movement within the area, with only passport checks at airports and seaports. Their membership of the EU Customs Union and Single Market means there are no customs checks or tariffs. Since 2005, the border has been essentially invisible.[240]

After Brexit, the border between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (part of the EU) will become the only UK–EU land border. There is concern about whether this becomes a "hard border" with fewer, controlled crossing points and customs checks.[241] This could compromise the Good Friday Agreement that ended the Northern Ireland conflict,[242][243][244] and lead to violence.[245] All involved parties agree a hard border should be avoided.[246] To forestall this, the EU proposed a "backstop agreement" (the Northern Ireland Protocol) that would keep the UK in the Customs Union and keep Northern Ireland in some aspects of the Single Market also, until a lasting solution is found.[247] The backstop is supported by the Irish government and many Irish nationalists, but opposed by many Ulster unionists and Conservatives. They say it undermines the UK's territorial integrity, prevents it making its own trade deals, and fear it could keep the UK (or part of it) under EU rules indefinitely.[247] The backstop is part of the Withdrawal Agreement, but the UK parliament overwhelmingly voted down the agreement and the government seeks to replace it with other arrangements.[247]

The original proposal was for Northern Ireland alone to remain in the EU Single Market and Customs Union. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) opposed this, believing it threatened the unity of the UK. Theresa May then agreed to keep the whole UK in the Customs Union, should it come into effect.[247] When Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, he promised to remove the backstop from the withdrawal agreement and replace it with "alternative arrangements".[248] One proposed option is for Northern Ireland alone continuing to follow EU food standards. Under EU rules, food products must be checked at their point-of-entry to the EU, which would mean new checks on food products coming from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. Unionists have not ruled this out, but the Irish government said it is "not enough on its own".[247] Other proposed options include trusted traders schemes and using GPS to track lorries. Some trade experts say trusted-trader schemes would not be enough alone to end all border checks, and the technological solutions may increase the costs and complexity of trade. The EU has committed to working on alternative arrangements, and Angela Merkel said the withdrawal agreement would not need to be renegotiated if a practical solution to the backstop was found, but such arrangements may take years to become fully operational, and would require agreement from the EU and the Irish government.[248]

The UK government announced that it would not perform customs checks at the Irish border after a no-deal Brexit and acknowledged that it might present a smuggling risk.[227][249][250] European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, said if there was a no-deal Brexit the Republic of Ireland would have to implement border checks on the EU's behalf.[251] In 2019, the President of Ireland signed into law the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Act, to help deal with challenges a no-deal Brexit poses to the Republic and its citizens.[252][253][254]

Border with France

The French and British governments say they remain committed to the Le Touquet Agreement, which lets UK border checks be completed in France, and vice-versa (juxtaposed controls).[255] The two governments signed the Sandhurst Treaty in January 2018, which will shorten the time taken to process migrants attempting to reach the UK from Calais, from six months to one month. The UK also announced it will invest a further £44.5 million on border security at the English Channel.[255] If there is a "no-deal" Brexit, trade between the UK and France will default to World Trade Organization rules. To ensure the smooth flow of freight, France created a new "smart border" which will scan trucks' licence plates and automatically link them to shipping documents filled out online by exporters. Trucks travelling to Britain will either be waved through, or undergo checks if they carry food, plants or livestock. Gérald Darmanin, French Minister of Public Action and Accounts, said there would not be long queues in Calais.[256] France is spending €50 million on expanding port infrastructure and plans to recruit 700 more customs staff by the end of 2020.[257]

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 EU27. 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][258]


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.[259] Studies published in 2018, estimated that the economic costs of the Brexit vote were 2.1% of GDP,[260][261] or 2.5% of GDP.[262] According to a December 2017 Financial Times analysis, the Brexit referendum results had reduced national British income by between 0.6% and 1.3%.[263] 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,[264] and a September 2019 study by the same authors and others concluded that since the referendum there has been an increase in uncertainty amongst businesses and that this, in addition to time dedicated to Brexit planning, has reduced UK productivity by between 2% and 5%, and reduced investment by 11%.[265] A number of studies found that Brexit-induced uncertainty about the UK's future trade policy reduced British international trade from June 2016 onwards.[266][267][268][269][270] A 2019 analysis found that British firms substantially increased offshoring to the EU after the Brexit referendum, whereas European firms reduced new investments in the UK.[271][272]

In the long term

There is overwhelming or near-unanimous agreement among economists that leaving the EU will adversely affect the British economy in the medium- and long-term.[c][258] Surveys of economists in 2016 showed overwhelming agreement that Brexit would likely reduce the UK's real per-capita income level.[9][10][11] 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,[258] and a cost of between 1–10% of the UK's income per capita.[7] These estimates differ depending on whether the UK exits the EU with a hard Brexit or soft Brexit.[7] 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.[273][274]

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.[275][276][277][278] 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%.[279] A 2017 study found that "almost all UK regions are systematically more vulnerable to Brexit than regions in any other country."[280] 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."[281][7] It is unclear how changes in trade and foreign investment will interact with immigration, but these changes are likely to be important.[7]

Economists warned that London's future as an international financial centre depended on whether the UK would obtain passporting rights for British banks from the EU, suggesting that if banks located in the UK were not able to obtain them, they would have strong incentives to relocate to alternative financial centres within the EU.[282][283] According to John Armour, Professor of Law and Finance at Oxford University, in March 2017, "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," since passporting rights would continue.[283]

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.[284][285] Numerous academics have criticised this alternative for EU membership as "post-imperial nostalgia".[286][287][288] 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.[289][290][291]

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.[292]

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 also pessimistic.[13][293] The assessments assumed that the referendum results would create greater uncertainty in markets and reduce consumer confidence more than it did.[293] 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.[294][295][293][7][13] 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".[293][294][7][296]


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 authors of the study said, "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."[297]

Impact on the EU

All the remaining EU members (as well as EFTA countries – Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland) will also likely experience adverse economic effects (albeit smaller effects than the UK), in particular Ireland, the Netherlands and Belgium.[298][299][300] 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.[301] Furthermore, the EU would lose its second-largest net contributor to the EU budget.[302] Brexit would result in an additional financial burden for the remaining net contributors, unless the budget is reduced accordingly. 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%, which Britain would withdraw unless there is an EU treaty change.[303]

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 EU.[304][305] Since decisions of the Council are made by qualified majority voting, Britain could along with other northern EU allies (Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the Scandinavian and the Baltic states) reach sufficient votes to block policies.[306][307]

As a result of Brexit, the offices and staff of the European Medicines Agency and European Banking Authority, which employ more than 1,000 staff, currently based in London, will move out of the UK to Amsterdam and Paris.[308]


After Brexit, the UK will leave the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP),[309] which provides financial support to farmers in the EU. Most of the payments to farmers comes from the EU budget, paid for by contributions from member states.[310] However, the UK receives much less than it contributes, and the CAP has been criticised for encouraging farming which harms the environment, favouring big landowners and imposing high food prices.[310]

Brexit allows the UK to develop its own agriculture policy.[311] The UK government and devolved legislatures have set out plans to support farmers while enhancing the environment.[311] The current UK government has committed to maintaining the same payments to farmers until the end of the current parliament, even without a withdrawal agreement.[309] The Agriculture Bill is intended to replace the CAP with a new system based on paying farmers "public money for public goods" such as environmental protection, public access to the countryside and measures to reduce flooding. The UK government has also said it will ensure continued "access to seasonal agricultural labour" from abroad after Brexit.[311] Farming unions have warned that a "no-deal" Brexit, however, could have "severe impacts" on farming.[312]


After Brexit, the UK will leave the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP)[313] that lets all EU countries fish within 12 nautical miles of the UK coast[314] and lets the EU set catch quotas.[315] The combined EU fishing fleets land about 6 million tonnes of fish per year,[316] about half of which are from UK waters.[317] The UK's share of the overall catch is 750,000 tonnes.[318] The UK will become an independent coastal state and be fully responsible for managing fisheries in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), extending 200 nautical miles (nm) from shore.[313] It will still be bound by the UN Law of the Sea Convention, which requires it to co-operate with neighbours on managing shared fish stocks and prevent overfishing.[313] By leaving the CFP, the UK could develop its own fisheries policy.[315] The UK will also leave the London Fisheries Convention that lets Irish, French, Belgian, Dutch and German vessels fish within six nautical miles of the UK's coast.[319]

According to Wageningen Economic Research, if there was a "hard Brexit that banned EU fishermen from UK waters", British fishermen could catch more fish but the price of their fish would drop, while the resulting trade barriers would lead to higher seafood prices for consumers, because the UK imports most of its seafood. This would be a "lose-lose situation" for both the UK and the EU, and for both British consumers and the fishing industry.[320] According to a 2018 study, "Brexit poses a major challenge to the stability of European fisheries management [...] potentially putting at risk recent recovery and future sustainability of shared fish stocks". It said that denying access to foreign fishing vessels would risk tariffs being imposed, while granting access and seeking a more modest re-balancing of fishing entitlements would lessen this risk.[321]


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

Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory, participated in the referendum and will leave the EU together with the UK, although 96% of those who participated in the referendum in Gibraltar voted to remain. Gibraltar is outside the EU Customs Union and Schengen Zone, meaning it has customs and identity checks at its border with Spain. Spain asserts a territorial claim on Gibraltar. After the referendum, Spain's Foreign Minister renewed calls for joint Spanish–British control.[322] This was rebuffed by Gibraltar's Chief Minister,[323] and the UK government states it would only negotiate on Gibraltar's sovereignty with the consent of its people.[324]

The European Council's guidelines for withdrawal negotiations stated that UK–EU agreements made after Brexit would not apply to Gibraltar without Spain's consent.[325] Gibraltarian government minister (and former Chief Minister) Joe Bossano condemned 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".[326] In late 2018, the British and Spanish governments agreed that any dispute over Gibraltar would not affect Brexit negotiations,[327] and the British government agreed that UK–EU treaties made after Brexit would not automatically apply to Gibraltar.[328] Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said that "With Brexit we all lose, especially the United Kingdom, but when it comes to Gibraltar, Spain wins."[329][330]


A 2019 study in the Lancet suggested that Brexit would have an adverse impact on health services in the UK under every Brexit scenario, but that a no-deal Brexit would have the worst impact.[331] 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.[331]

Law and courts

After Brexit, the UK will have the final say over the laws that govern it.[332] Under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which was passed by the British parliament, EU laws will no longer have supremacy over UK laws after Brexit.[333] To maintain continuity, the Act converts EU law into UK law as "retained EU law". After Brexit, the British parliament (and the devolved legislatures) can decide which elements of that law to keep, amend or repeal.[333] Furthermore, UK courts will no longer be bound by the judgments of the EU Court of Justice after Brexit. Its case law from before Brexit will still apply to UK courts, but the UK Supreme Court will not be bound by it.[334] According to Catherine Barnard from UK in a Changing Europe, any future UK–EU trade agreement will require some EU law to take precedence in UK law.[334]

Brexit 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.[335] 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.[336]


After Brexit, the UK would be able to control immigration from the EU and EEA.[337] Being part of the EU and EEA means that citizens of any member state can move to the UK to live and work with very few restrictions (freedom of movement). The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 retains freedom of movement as UK law until it is repealed.[338] The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill would repeal free movement and make EU immigration subject to UK law.[339] The current UK government intends to replace it with a new system. The government's 2018 white paper proposes a "skills-based immigration system" that prioritizes skilled migrants, limits the length of time low-skilled migrants can work in the UK, and applies a stricter criminality threshold. EU and EEA citizens already living in the UK can continue living there after Brexit by applying to the EU Settlement Scheme, which began in March 2019. Irish citizens will not have to apply to the scheme.[340][341][342] If there is a no-deal Brexit, EU citizens who arrive in the UK before the end of 2020 can apply to stay until the end of 2023.[343]

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.[344][345] 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".[346] The decline in EEA immigration is likely to have an adverse impact on the British health sector.[347] Official figures for June 2016–June 2017 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 EU rose. Taken together, the two inflows into the UK resulted in an only slightly reduced net immigration of 230,000 newcomers..[348] The number of non-British EU nurses registering with the NHS fell from 1,304 in July 2016 to 46 in April 2017.[349]

Since the referendum, some British citizens have attempted to retain their EU citizenship by applying to other EU member states for citizenship,[350] and petitioning the European Commission.[351]

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.[352][353]


By leaving the EU, the UK would leave the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA), a single market in commercial air travel.[354] The UK will negotiate a future relationship with the EU on the "basis of equivalence of traffic rights and a level playing field".[355] It could negotiate an agreement to re-join as a non-EU member (like Bosnia and Herzegovina), negotiate access through a bilateral agreement (like Switzerland), or negotiate a new 'open skies' bilateral deal with the EU.[354] If there is a "no-deal" Brexit, UK airlines will still have permission to operate within the EU with no restrictions, and vice-versa. UK airlines licensed before Brexit will still have permission to operate provided they are majority owned and effectively controlled by nationals of the UK and/or nationals of the EU and EEA.[355] The UK government seeks continued participation in the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). If there is a "no-deal" Brexit, the UK's Civil Aviation Authority would take on the role of regulator for UK airlines. A substantial increase in CAA staff and resources would be needed to meet the demands of its new role.[354] The UK has its own air service agreements with 111 countries, which permit flights to-and-from the country, and these will continue after Brexit. It has air service agreements with a further 17 countries through its EU membership, and it has sought to replace these.[356] By July 2019, the UK had concluded air service agreements numerous countries.[357][357][358][359]

The EU announced that the Channel Tunnel rail link will remain open on current terms for three months if there is a "no-deal" Brexit. The EU Commission said this should be enough time for new permanent arrangements to be agreed.[360]

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 withdrawal agreement. The UK will remain in the European Common Transit Convention (CTC) after Brexit.[361] This would apply to any new trading relationship with the EU, including after leaving without a withdrawal agreement.[362] 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.[363] 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.[364] 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.[365]

Ferries will continue, but with obstacles such as customs checks.[366] New ferry departures between the Republic of Ireland and the European mainland have been established.[366]


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

After the Brexit referendum, the Scottish Government—led by the Scottish National Party (SNP)—announced that officials were planning another independence referendum because Scotland voted to remain in the EU while England and Wales voted to leave.[367] It had suggested this before the Brexit referendum.[368] The First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, requested a referendum be held before the UK's withdrawal, but the UK Prime Minister rejected the requested timing.[369] The Scottish Parliament voted in favour of holding another independence referendum,[1] with Sturgeon planning a new referendum on Scotland's independence from Britain in 2021.[370][371] At the last referendum in 2014, 55 per cent of voters had decided to remain in the UK, but the referendum on Britain's withdrawal from the EU was held in 2016, with 62 per cent of Scottish voters against leaving the EU. In the event that Northern Ireland remains associated with the EU - for example, by remaining in the Customs Union - it is expected that Scotland will also insist on special treatment.[372]

On 21 March 2018, the Scottish Parliament passed the Scottish Continuity Bill.[373] 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 Brexit. The 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.[374] The bill was referred to the UK 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.[375] The bill has therefore not received royal assent.[376]


Concerns have been raised that Brexit might create security problems for the UK, particularly in law enforcement and counter-terrorism where the UK could use the EU'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 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 databases comprising European plane travel records, vehicle registrations, fingerprints, and DNA profiles.[377]

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.[378]

See also



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Further reading

External links

Relating to court cases