What is Brexit?

All you need to know about the UK leaving the EU

What does Brexit mean?

It is a word that is used as a shorthand way of saying the UK leaving the EU – merging the words Britain and exit to get Brexit, in the same way as a possible Greek exit from the euro was dubbed Grexit in the past.

Why is Britain leaving the European Union?

A referendum – a vote in which everyone (or nearly everyone) of voting age can take part – was held on Thursday 23 June, 2016, to decide whether the UK should leave or remain in the European Union. Leave won by 51.9% to 48.1%. The referendum turnout was 71.8%, with more than 30 million people voting. EU Referendum: The result.

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Fact about BrexitMost economic experts believe that in the short term the British economy will shrink if we vote to leave. Business investment is likely to be lower, house prices could fall as people put off moving while sterling is almost certain to fall – at least initially. But this is more due to uncertainty than any underlying problems with the UK economy as a result of Brexit.

What was the breakdown across the UK?

England voted for Brexit, by 53.4% to 46.6%. Wales also voted for Brexit, with Leave getting 52.5% of the vote and Remain 47.5%. Scotland and Northern Ireland both backed staying in the EU. Scotland backed Remain by 62% to 38%, while 55.8% in Northern Ireland voted Remain and 44.2% Leave.

What is the European Union?

The European Union – often known as the EU – is an economic and political partnership involving 28 European countries (click here if you want to see the full list). It began after World War Two to foster economic co-operation, with the idea that countries which trade together were more likely to avoid going to war with each other.

It has since grown to become a “single market” allowing goods and people to move around, basically as if the member states were one country. It has its own currency, the euro, which is used by 19 of the member countries, its own parliament and it now sets rules in a wide range of areas – including on the environment, transport, consumer rights and even things such as mobile phone charges.

When is the UK due to leave the EU?

For the UK to leave the EU it had to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which gives the two sides two years to agree the terms of the split. Theresa May triggered this process on 29 March, 2017, meaning the UK is scheduled to leave at 11pm UK time on Friday, 29 March 2019. It can be extended if all 28 EU members agree, but at the moment all sides are focusing on that date as being the key one, and Theresa May has now put it into British law.

So is Brexit definitely happening?

The UK government and the main UK opposition party both say Brexit will happen. There are some groups campaigning for Brexit to be halted, but the focus among the UK’s elected politicians has been on what relationship the UK has with the EU after Brexit, rather than whether Brexit will happen at all. Nothing is ever certain, but as things stand Britain is leaving the European Union. There is more detail on the possible hurdles further down this guide…

What’s happening now?

The UK and EU have provisionally agreed on the three “divorce” issues of how much money the UK owes the EU, what happens to the Northern Ireland border and what happens to UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU and EU citizens living in the UK. Talks are now focusing on the detail of how to avoid having a physical Northern Ireland border – and on future relations. To buy more time, the two sides have agreed on a 21-month “transition” period to smooth the way to post-Brexit relations. The UK cabinet has agreed how it sees those future relations working – but this plan, often called the Chequers Plan because it was agreed at the PM’s country residence, has faced criticism from anti-Brexit campaigners and also some leading pro-Brexit Conservatives. And also from the EU – which has said key parts won’t work.

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What is the ‘transition’ period?

It refers to a period of time after 29 March, 2019, to 31 December, 2020, to get everything in place and allow businesses and others to prepare for the moment when the new post-Brexit rules between the UK and the EU begin. It also allows more time for the details of the new relationship to be fully hammered out. Free movement will continue during the transition period, as the EU wanted. The UK will be able to strike its own trade deals – although they won’t be able to come into force until 1 January 2021. This transition period is currently only due to happen if the UK and the EU agree a Brexit deal.

Do we know how things will work in the long-term?

No. Negotiations about future relations between the UK and the EU are taking place now. Both sides hope they can agree by mid-November an outline of how things like trade, travel and security will work. If all goes to plan this deal could then be given the go-ahead by both sides in time for 29 March 2019. Theresa May delivered a big speech setting out her thoughts on the UK and EU’s future relations on 2 March, 2018 and then followed that up in July with the Chequers Plan – the UK’s official offer to the EU on how Brexit should work.

What is the Chequers Plan?

Theresa May’s cabinet had a wide variety of views on Brexit – from those who opposed Brexit, to those who led the Leave campaign during the referendum. Getting them all to agree on a vision for the future has been quite a challenge. To do so, Mrs May invited her cabinet ministers to Chequers, her official country house in Buckinghamshire, in July to thrash out their differences and agree a plan.

The plan includes proposals for the UK to mirror EU rules on goods, plus the UK and EU being treated as a “combined customs territory” which would mean the UK would apply domestic tariffs and trade policies for goods intended for the UK, but charge EU tariffs and their equivalents for goods which will end up heading into the EU. The idea is that this would avoid the need for a visible border with the Republic of Ireland.

The plan suggests that the UK would also be free to strike its own trade deals with countries around the world, something it is currently unable to do as a member of the EU customs union.

Mrs May says the plan will also end the free movement of people “giving the UK back control over how many people enter the country”. But a “mobility framework” will be set up to allow UK and EU citizens to travel to each other’s territories, and apply for study and work.

A “joint institutional framework” will be established to interpret UK-EU agreements. This would be done in the UK by UK courts, and in the EU by EU courts. But, decisions by UK courts would involve “due regard paid to EU case law in areas where the UK continued to apply a common rulebook”.

Cases will still be referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) as the interpreter of EU rules, but “cannot resolve disputes between the two”.

What has been the reaction to the Chequers Plan?

The initial reaction was not positive – Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Brexit Secretary David Davis both resigned a couple of days after the plan was agreed at Chequers. And it has not gained much support since then. Both those who oppose Brexit and those who want a clean break with the EU are unhappy with what is seen as a compromise deal. The European Union has also said the trade parts of the proposals are unacceptable. Mrs May has so far stuck by the plan, saying it is a workable one which takes on board both the UK and EU’s red lines, is the best possible one for the UK and EU economies and avoids the need for a visible border on the island of Ireland.

Steps to UK leaving the European Union

June 2016

Uk Votes to leave the EU

29 Mar 2017

UK invokes Article 50 of the Treaty on Europe Union after MP approval

October - December 2017

European Commission makes a recommendation to the European Council on “sufficient progress” to start talks on the future relations

29 March 2019

Deadline for ending talks on the UK’s withdrawal terms from the EU