UK withdrawal from the European Union (2020)

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Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union

Glossary of terms

Leave campaigns
Remain campaigns

Bloomberg speech Jan 2013
Referendum Bill blockedJan 2014
European Parliament election May 2014
2015 general election May 2015
Renegotiation begins Jun 2015
Referendum Act passed Dec 2015
Renegotiation concluded Feb 2016
Referendum held Jun 2016
David Cameron resigns as PM Jul 2016
Theresa May becomes PM Jul 2016
Article 50 judgement Jan 2017
Brexit plan presentedFeb 2017
Notification Act passed Mar 2017
Article 50 invoked Mar 2017
Repeal Bill plan presentedMar 2017
2017 general election Jun 2017
Brexit negotiations begin Jun 2017
Withdrawal Act passedJun 2018
Chequers plan presented Jul 2018
Withdrawal agreement plan presented July 2018
Withdrawal agreement released Nov 2018
Scottish Continuity Bill blockedDec 2018
Meaningful votes Jan–Mar 2019
Brexit delayed until 12 April Mar 2019
Cooper–Letwin Act passed Apr 2019
Brexit delayed until 31 October Apr 2019
European Parliament election May 2019
Theresa May resigns as PM Jul 2019
Boris Johnson becomes PM Jul 2019
Prorogation and annulment Aug–Sep 2019
Benn Act passed Sep 2019
Withdrawal agreement revised Oct 2019
Brexit delayed until 31 January Oct 2019
2019 general election Dec 2019
Agreement Act passed Jan 2020
UK leaves the European Union Jan 2020
Implementation period begins Jan 2020
UK–EU trade deal agreed Dec 2020
Future Relationship Act passed Dec 2020
Scottish Continuity Act passed Dec 2020
Implementation period ends Dec 2020
New EU–UK relationship begins Jan 2021
UK–EU trade deal ratified Apr 2021
Windsor Framework released Feb 2023
Windsor framework adopted Mar 2023
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The United Kingdom in orange; the European Union (27 member states) in blue: a representation of the result of Brexit

Brexit (/ˈbrɛksɪt, ˈbrɛɡzɪt/;[1] portmanteau of "British exit") was the withdrawal of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU). Following a referendum on 23 June 2016, Brexit officially took place at 23:00 GMT on 31 January 2020 (00:00 1 February 2020 CET).[a] The UK is the only sovereign country to have left the EU. The UK had been a member state of the EU or its predecessor, the European Communities (EC), since 1 January 1973. Following Brexit, EU law and the Court of Justice of the European Union no longer have primacy over British laws. The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 retains relevant EU law as domestic law, which the UK can amend or repeal.

The EU and its institutions developed gradually after their establishment. Throughout the period of British membership, Eurosceptic groups had existed, opposing aspects of the EU and its predecessors. Labour prime minister Harold Wilson's pro-EC government held a referendum on continued EC membership in 1975, in which 67.2 per cent of those voting chose to stay within the bloc. Despite growing political opposition to further European integration aimed at "ever closer union" between 1975 and 2016, notably from Margaret Thatcher in the late 1980s and 1990s, and factions of the Conservative Party in the 2000s, no further referendums on the issue were held.

By the 2010s, the growing popularity of UK Independence Party (UKIP), as well as pressure from Eurosceptics in the Conservative Party, persuaded then-Prime Minister David Cameron to promise a referendum on British membership of the EU if his government was re-elected. Following the general election in 2015, which produced a small but unexpected overall majority for the governing Conservative Party, the promised referendum on continued EU membership was held on 23 June 2016. Notable supporters of the Remain campaign included Cameron, future Prime Ministers Theresa May and Liz Truss, and former Prime Ministers John Major, Tony Blair, and Gordon Brown; while notable supporters of the Leave campaign included future Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak. The electorate voted to leave the EU with a 51.9% share of the vote, with all regions of England and Wales except London voting in favour of Brexit, and Scotland and Northern Ireland voting against. The result led to Cameron's sudden resignation, his replacement by then-Home Secretary Theresa May, and four years of negotiations with the EU on the terms of departure and on future relations, completed under a Boris Johnson government, with government control remaining with the Conservative Party during this period.

The negotiation process was both politically challenging and deeply divisive within the UK, leading to two snap elections in 2017 and 2019. One deal was overwhelmingly rejected by the UK Parliament, causing great uncertainty and leading to postponement of the withdrawal date to avoid a no-deal Brexit. The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020 after a withdrawal deal was passed by Parliament but continued to participate in many EU institutions (including the single market and customs union) during an eleven-month transition period in order to ensure frictionless trade until all details of the post-Brexit relationship were agreed and implemented. Trade deal negotiations continued within days of the scheduled end of the transition period and the EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement was signed on 30 December 2020. The effects of Brexit are in part determined by the cooperation agreement, which provisionally applied from 1 January 2021, until it formally came into force on 1 May 2021.[2]


Following a UK-wide referendum on 23 June 2016, in which 51.89 per cent voted in favour of leaving the EU and 48.11 per cent voted to remain a member, Prime Minister David Cameron resigned. On 29 March 2017, the new British government led by Theresa May formally notified the EU of the country's intention to withdraw, beginning the process of Brexit negotiations. The withdrawal, originally scheduled for 29 March 2019, was delayed by the deadlock in the British parliament after the June 2017 general election, which resulted in a hung parliament in which the Conservatives lost their majority but remained the largest party. This deadlock led to three extensions of the UK's Article 50 process.

The deadlock was resolved after a subsequent general election was held in December 2019. In that election, Conservatives who campaigned in support of a "revised" withdrawal agreement led by Boris Johnson won an overall majority of 80 seats. After the December 2019 election, the British parliament finally ratified the withdrawal agreement with the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. The UK left the EU at the end of 31 January 2020 CET (11 p.m. GMT). This began a transition period that ended on 31 December 2020 CET (11 p.m. GMT), during which the UK and EU negotiated their future relationship.[3] During the transition, the UK remained subject to EU law and remained part of the European Union Customs Union and the European single market. However, it was no longer part of the EU's political bodies or institutions.[4][5]

The withdrawal had been advocated by hard Eurosceptics and opposed by pro-Europeanists and soft Eurosceptics, with both sides of the argument spanning the political spectrum. In 1973, the UK joined the European Communities (EC) – principally the European Economic Community (EEC) – and its continued membership was endorsed in the 1975 membership 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. The 1992 Maastricht Treaty, which founded the EU, was ratified by the British parliament in 1993 but was not put to a referendum. The Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party led a rebellion over the ratification of the treaty and, with the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the cross-party People's Pledge campaign, then led a collective campaign, particularly after the Treaty of Lisbon was also ratified by the European Union (Amendment) Act 2008 without being put to a referendum following a previous promise to hold a referendum on ratifying the abandoned European Constitution, which was never held. After promising to hold a second membership referendum if his government was elected, Conservative prime minister David Cameron held this referendum in 2016. Cameron, who had campaigned to remain, resigned after the result and was succeeded by Theresa May.

On 29 March 2017, the British government formally began the withdrawal process 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 (DUP). 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 British 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, 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 (SNP), and others sought to reverse Brexit through a proposed second referendum.

On 14 March 2019, the British parliament voted for May to ask the EU to delay Brexit until June, and then later October.[6] Having failed to get her agreement approved, 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. On 17 October 2019, the British government and the EU agreed on a revised withdrawal agreement, with new arrangements for Northern Ireland.[7][8] Parliament approved the agreement for further scrutiny, but rejected passing it into law before the 31 October deadline, and forced the government (through the "Benn Act") to ask for a third Brexit delay. An early general election was then held on 12 December. The Conservatives won a large majority in that election, with Johnson declaring that the UK would leave the EU in early 2020.[9] The withdrawal agreement was ratified by the UK on 23 January and by the EU on 30 January; it came into force on 31 January 2020.[10][11][12]

Terminology and etymology

Following the referendum of 23 June 2016, many new pieces of Brexit-related jargon entered popular use.[13][14] The word Brexit is a portmanteau of the phrase "British exit".[15] According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term was coined in a blog post on the website Euractiv by Peter Wilding, director of European policy at BSkyB, on 15 May 2012.[16] Wilding coined Brexit to refer to the end of UK membership in the EU – by 2016, usage of the word had increased by 3,400% in one year.[17] On 2 November 2016, the Collins English Dictionary selected Brexit as the word of the year for 2016.[18]

Background: the United Kingdom and EC/EU membership

  EC Members (Inner Six)
  EFTA Members (Outer Seven)
When the UK first joined the European Communities (along with Denmark and Ireland) on 1 January 1973 it was one of just nine member states that made up the bloc at the time.
  EC Members