What is Brexit, when is the UK leaving the European Union and what will happen after March 29 next year?

What is Brexit, when is the UK leaving the European Union and what will happen after March 29 next year?

December 10, 2018

Talks have hit a roadblock over the Irish border backstop issue, with Theresa May struggling to get her crunch vote through the Commons.  Here's the latest.

What is Brexit?

Brexit comes from merging the words "Britain" and "exit".

The term has been widely used ever since the idea of a referendum on leaving the EU was put forward.

More than 30million people voted in the June 2016 referendum with a turnout of 71.8 per cent. Leave won by 52 per cent to 48 per cent.

People now talk about “soft” and “hard” Brexit in reference to how close the UK will be to the EU post separation.

The road to triggering Article 50 – which saw Britain officially start the process of leaving the EU – was paved with complications for the PM, including a Supreme Court case ruling MPs needed to vote on Brexit negotiations.

But it was finally triggered on March 29, 2017, meaning the official departure date and move into the transition phase will take place on March 29, 2019.

Article 50: What it says

  • Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
  • A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.
  • The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.
  • For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it. A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
  • If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49.

What is the European Union and why did Britain vote to leave?

The European Union is an economic and political partnership. There are currently 28 members states including the United Kingdom.

It began as a trade group of six nations in the 1950s.

The UK first applied to join what was then the European Economic Community in 1961 and finally became a member in 1973.

Now called the European Union, it has grown to include former Soviet bloc states and has at its heart a “single market” allowing goods and people to move freely.

It has its own parliament, central bank and the euro currency used by 19 countries, with some members including Britain opting to keep their own money.

Eurocrats have been pushing for ever closer political and financial union, which could include a European Army separate from the Nato alliance.

Those in favour of leaving said Britain was being held back by EU red tape with too many rules on business.

They also campaigned on the issue of sovereignty and said they wanted Britain to take back full control of its borders.

Beyond the question of ceasing to be a member of the EU, what Brexit actually means in practice has been the subject of intense debate ever since.

When will the UK officially leave the European Union?

Theresa May officially triggered Article 50 on March 29, after which there is a two-year time limit set for negotiations to hammer out the details.

The UK will therefore leave the EU by March 29, 2019, although there is a 21-month "transition period".

Negotiations began on June 19, with the two chief negotiators, Michel Barnier of the EU and former Brexit Secretary David Davis, immediately setting off to find common ground.

Some of the “uncertainties” being discussed include citizens living in each other's territory, border arrangements between Ireland and the UK and the amount Britain stands to pay to honour its existing EU commitments.

What is a transition period and how long will it last?

This is a bridging agreement between the current situation – where we are members of the EU – and our long-term relationship outside the bloc.

Also known as an "implementation phase", it allows for the UK to keep some of the same arrangements with Brussels on trade and other matters until a new comprehensive trade agreement is sealed.

In March 2018, Britain secured a transition deal that will also allow ministers to seek trade agreements around the globe.

The UK will also be free to set its own foreign policy as soon as Brexit happens, as well as negotiate and sign new trade deals anywhere in the world – to implement them in 2021.

However EU chiefs made it clear the period, which allows the UK to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union, will only come into force if the Irish border is sorted.

Former Brexit Secretary David Davis and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier unveiled terms for the 21 month period interim period.

The UK will not be fully out of the EU until December 31, 2020 – four and a half years after the historic referendum decision.

What's the latest with Brexit talks?

Theresa May finally struck a Brexit deal with Brussels on November 13.

The PM tonight summoned the Cabinet to Downing Street to sign off on the details of the withdrawal agreement.

Britain and the EU reached the deal after days of round-the-clock talks in Brussels.

But Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson instantly vowed to vote against the deal and called on the Cabinet to block it.

The PM is seeing her senior ministers one by one throughout this evening – before an emergency Cabinet meeting to be held tomorrow at 2pm.

Details of the proposed agreement have not yet been made public and are likely to be revealed later this week.

Mrs May is keen to win over sceptical Brexiteers who worry that her plan will leave Britain tied to the EU customs union permanently.

Pro-Brexit ministers have privately threatened to resign rather than sign up to a deal they don't like.

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey and Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom are seen as the big beasts most likely to walk out.

They are worried about the details of the "backstop" agreement which is designed to ensure there is never a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

The backstop will see Britain remain in the customs union for as long as necessary until an alternative way of keeping the border open is found.

Mrs May wants the UK to have the right to end the backstop at will – but the EU has warned that would render the mechanism pointless.

The PM is now facing a key vote on December 11, 2018, after EU leaders agreed her plan for Brexit.

But the plan is less popular among fellow MPs, who are unlikely to vote it through.

Mrs May has warned MPs that rejecting her deal could lead to a general election, or even no Brexit at all.

There were reports that the vote could be delayed, but Number 10 has insisted it will go ahead as planned.

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