Brexit timeline: From 2013 referendum promise to 2020 exit

Joe Gamp
Contributor, Yahoo News UK
Pro-Brexit supporters gather in Parliament Square, London, as the UK prepared to leave the European Union at 11pm UK time. Picture date: Friday January 31, 2020. Photo credit should read: Matt Crossick/Empics

Britain has officially left the European Union, beginning an 11-month transition period following years of turmoil around Brexit following the 2016 referendum.

Yahoo News UK has put together a timeline detailing tense negotiations, multiple resignations, and a controversial prorogation in the years leading up to the UK’s departure from the bloc on January 31, 2020.

January 23 2013

Under intense pressure from many of his own MPs and with the rise of Ukip, Prime Minister David Cameron promises an in-out referendum on EU membership if the Conservatives win the 2015 general election. Mr Cameron pledges to campaign with “all my heart and soul” for Britain to vote to Remain in the referendum, which he says will take place by the end of 2017.

May 7 2015

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

June 23 2016

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

July 13 2016

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

Prime Minister David Cameron with his wife Samantha and children Nancy, Arthur and Florence speaks with the press before leaving 10 Downing Street for the last time on July 13, 2016 (GETTY)
Theresa May was David Cameron's successor following his resignation (GETTY)

November 10 2016

The High Court rules against the Government and says Parliament must hold a vote to trigger Article 50, the mechanism that begins the exit from the EU. Mrs May says the ruling will not stop her from invoking the legislation by April 2017.

March 29 2017

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

April 18 2017

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

June 8 2017

There is humiliation for Mrs May as she loses her Commons majority after her election gamble backfires. She becomes head of a minority Conservative administration propped up by the Democratic Unionist Party.

September 22 2017

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

December 8 2017

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

The announcement comes after Mrs May and Brexit Secretary David Davis make an early-hours journey to Brussels. The PM says the Brexit deal is a “significant improvement” which required give and take on both sides, and that it will ensure “no hard border” in Ireland.

March 19 2018

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

European Commission negotiator Michel Barnier arrives at 10 Downing Street for talks with Brexit Secretary David Davis.

June 19 2018

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

July 6 2018

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

July 8 and July 9 2018

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

November 14 2018

In a statement outside 10 Downing Street after a five-hour Cabinet meeting, Mrs May says that Cabinet has agreed the draft Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and she believes it is “the best that could be negotiated”.

November 15 2018

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

November 25 2018

The 27 European Union leaders endorse the Brexit deal.

December 12 2018

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

January 15 2019

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

Mrs May reiterated that a no-deal Brexit is better than a bad deal in a speech to the British people after the EU rejected her Chequers Plan for leaving the European Union (GETTY)

January 16 2019

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

March 12 2019

MPs again reject the Government’s Brexit deal by 391 votes to 242.

March 14 2019

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

March 20 2019

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

March 29 2019

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

April 10 2019

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

Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit Party and a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for South East England is seen speaking during the EU election results press conference in Westminster (PA)

May 21 2019

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

May 23 2019

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

May 24 2019

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

Read more:
What happens with Brexit after Saturday? Your transition questions answered
How will the UK's relationship with the EU change during the Brexit transition period?
16 pictures that tell the story of five years of utter Brexit chaos

July 23 2019

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

July 24 2019

Mr Johnson uses his first speech in Downing Street to say that critics of Brexit – the “doubters, doomsters and gloomsters” – are wrong. He says he is “convinced we can do a deal” to resolve the issue of the Irish border but he would prepare for a no-deal Brexit.

August 20 2019

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

August 28 2019

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

Crowd of protesters holds placards outside Downing Street in London demonstrating against British Prime Minister Boris Johnson�s plans to suspend UK parliament for five weeks ahead of a Queens Speech on 14 October, just two weeks before the UK is set to leave the EU. The Queen has approved Boris Johnson's request to prorogue UK Parliament after the Prime Minister stepped up his plans for a no deal Brexit. (Photo by Steve Taylor / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

September 3 2019

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

September 4 2019

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

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

The PM attempts to trigger an early general election but fails because he does not win the required support of two-thirds of MPs.

September 10 2019

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

September 17 2019

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

September 24 2019

The Supreme Court rules that the Prime Minister’s advice to the Queen to suspend Parliament until October 14 was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating Parliament.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers a speech outside 10 Downing Street following the Conservative Party's landslide victory in the UK General Election on 13 December, 2019 (GETTY)

October 2 2019

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

October 10 2019

Mr Johnson and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar say a Brexit deal “is in everyone’s interest” and they can see a “pathway to a deal”, in a joint statement after talks at a luxury hotel in Cheshire.

October 17 2019

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

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

Boris Johnson welcomes the European Comission President Ursula von der Leyen on the steps of 10 Downing Street ahead of their meeting on 08 January, 2020 (GETTY)

October 19 2019

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

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

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

October 22 2019

Mr Johnson mounts an attempt to fast-track his Brexit deal through Parliament. This requires two votes: one on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) to implement the deal, and another on the accelerated timetable.

The WAB is approved in principle at its first hurdle when MPs vote 329 to 299 for it. But the blow comes when they reject the hasty timetable by 322 to 308. The PM puts his plans on ice, saying he will “pause” the WAB until the EU makes a decision on granting a delay.

October 28 2019

EU leaders agree to a Brexit “flextension” until January 31 unless Parliament ratifies the deal sooner.

October 29 2019

The Prime Minister succeeds in winning support for a general election on December 12.

December 12 2019

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

January 8 2020

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

Boris Johnson marked the signing of the Withdrawal Agreement with a photo backed by Union Jacks (Picture: Twitter/Boris Johnson)

January 9 2020

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

January 31 2020

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

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