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Event.png Brexit (Euroscepticism,  Withdrawal from the European Union) Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Cacas Tauri.jpg
Brexit Day depicted by Steve Bell
DateMarch 2017 - 31 January 2020
Interest ofCamila Carlbom, Joanna Cherry, Dominic Cummings, Michelle Dewberry, Paddy Hannam, Gina Miller, Brendan O'Neill, Gloria De Piero, Alan Riley, Dominique Samuels, Spiked Online, Wolfgang Streeck, Rishi Sunak, Eloise Todd, Guy Verhofstadt, John Ward
DescriptionThe United Kingdom's departure from the European Union.

Brexit, a portmanteau of the words "British" and "exit", is the process by which the United Kingdom (UK) intends to withdraw from the European Union (EU) after the June 2016 EU Referendum in which 17.5 million (38% of the electorate) voted to Leave the EU, 16 million (34%) voted to Remain and 13 million (28%) Abstained from voting.[1]

As a result, the UK legislated to withdraw from the EU at 23:00 hours GMT on 31 January 2020. An eleven-month transition period until 31 December 2020 follows the withdrawal, during which the UK and EU will negotiate their future trade relationship.[2]


The process of withdrawal from the European Union has, since 2007, been governed by Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. No member state has ever left the EU. Under Article 50, the withdrawal must be in accordance with the Member State's constitutional requirements and uncertainty exists as to the constitutional requirements in the UK. Unless extensions are agreed to unanimously by the Council of the European Union, the timing for leaving under the article is two years from when the UK gives official notice, but this official notice was not given immediately following the referendum in June 2016. The assumption is that during the two-year window new agreements will be negotiated, but there is no requirement that there be new agreements.[3] Some aspects, such as trade agreements, may be made difficult to negotiate by the EU until after Britain has formally left the EU.[4]

Withdrawal has been the goal of various individuals, advocacy groups, and political parties since the UK joined the European Economic Community (EEC), the predecessor of the EU, in 1973, though continued membership of the EEC and the Common Market was approved in a 1975 referendum by 67.2% of votes.

Parliamentary debate

In a House of Commons debate on 11 October 2016, the Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer put 170 questions about Brexit to the government and sought an assurance that Parliament would be given a vote on the terms of the exit negotiations:

"We do accept and respect the result of the referendum. But neither those who voted to remain nor those who voted to leave gave the government a mandate to take an axe to our economy. By flirting with Hard Brexit the Prime Minister puts at risk Britain's access to the single market rather than doing the right thing for jobs, for business and for working people in this country. So much for putting the national interest first!"[5]

For the government, Brexit Secretary David Davis said he was not prepared to outline Brexit aims in detail since it was “not black or white” whether the UK would stay in the single market and Parliament could not expect to be given every detail of the government’s plans for leaving. Davis said the government had a mandate to get the best possible deal but insisted he could go no further than talking about overarching aims because revealing the UK’s top priority would prove “extremely expensive”. Sterling fell to one of its lowest ever levels of $1.22 as David Davis was speaking.[6]

Run-up to Brexit

On 30 March 2017, the UK formally triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which gives both sides two years to reach agreement so, unless the UK and the 27 remaining EU member states were to agree to extend the deadline for talks, the UK would leave on Friday 29 March 2019.[7]

Following the failure of the UK Parliament to approve the Withdrawal Agreement by 29 March 2019, the UK was required to leave the EU on 12 April 2019. But on 10 April 2019, late-night talks in Brussels resulted in a further extension, to 31 October 2019. Upon succeeding Theresa May as prime minister on 24 July 2019, Boris Johnson vowed that the UK would leave the EU on 31 October 2019 "do or die", "with or without a deal".

In October 2019 anti-Brexit campaigners sought an order from the Scottish Supreme Court to force Boris Johnson to ask the EU for a delay if he had failed to secure a deal by 19 October 2019 (a key provision of the Benn Act) and send the letter to the European Union on behalf of the PM if he refused to do so himself. On 9 October 2019, Joanna Cherry QC tweeted:

"Delighted to advise Scotland’s Supreme Court is holding off ruling on whether to force @BorisJohnson to send #Brexit #extension #BennAct letter until 21 Oct to give PM time to fulfil the promise he made to the court. A victory for us and all our supporters."[8]

Opposition moves

On 28 December 2018, Jeremy Corbyn called for the House of Commons to be recalled early from its Christmas break to allow MPs to vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal. But Parliament did not reconvene until Monday 7 January 2019, and the postponed vote on the prime minister’s deal took place the week after that.[9] On 15 January 2019, an unlikely alliance of Brexit supporting MPs and those who want to remain inside the EU came together to defeat the prime minister by 432 votes to 202 - a margin of 230.[10]

On 10 February 2019, Labour's Shadow Brexit Secretary said the party would lay its own amendment to try and force Number 10 to hold a second meaningful yes-or-no vote on her agreement before the end of February:

"We have got to put a hard stop into this running down the clock," Sir Keir Starmer said. "And that’s what we want to do this week."[11]

Brexiteers to pay divorce bill

In November 2017, it was reported that the UK government had accepted that the Brexit divorce bill could amount to as much as £40 billion.[12] This means that the 17,410,742 Brexit voters (37.44% of the electorate) could be liable to pay £2,297.43 each.

Since 16,141,241 voters (34.71% of the electorate) voted to Remain, they should not have to pay anything. Nor should the 12,948,018 people (27.85% of the electorate) who abstained from voting. Which means that 62.56% of the UK electorate do not have to pay anything for exiting the EU.

So let the Brexiteers stump up £2,297.43 each![13]

Laughing stock of Europe

Brexit Secretary David Davis and EU's Michel Barnier negotiating on 19 June 2017

On 17 June 2017, Swiss newspaper Der Bund published the following article entitled "Lachnummer Europas"[14] ("Laughing stock of Europe"):

If it weren't so serious, the situation in Great Britain would almost be comical. The country is being governed by a talking robot, nicknamed the Maybot, that somehow managed to visit the burned-out tower block in the west of London without speaking to a single survivor or voluntary helper. Negotiations for the country’s exit from the EU are due to begin on Monday, but no one has even a hint of a plan. The government is dependent on a small party that provides a cozy home for climate change deniers and creationists. Boris Johnson is Foreign Secretary. What in the world has happened to this country?

Two years ago David Cameron emerged from the parliamentary election as the shining victor. He had secured an absolute majority, and as a result it looked as if the career of this cheerful lightweight was headed for surprisingly dizzy heights. The economy was growing faster than in any other industrialised country in the world. Scottish independence and, with it, the break-up of the United Kingdom had been averted. For the first time since 1992, there was a Conservative majority in the House of Commons. Great Britain saw itself as a universally respected actor on the international stage. This was the starting point.

In order to get from this comfortable position to the chaos of the present in the shortest possible time, two things were necessary: first, the Conservative right wingers’ obsessive hatred of the EU, and second, Cameron’s irresponsibility in putting the whole future of the country on the line with his referendum, just to satisfy a few fanatics in his party. It is becoming ever clearer just how extraordinarily bad a decision that was. The fact that Great Britain has become the laughing stock of Europe is directly linked to its vote for Brexit.

The ones who will suffer most will be the British people, who were lied to by the Brexit campaign during the referendum and betrayed and treated like idiots by elements of their press. The shamelessness still knows no bounds: the Daily Express has asked in all seriousness whether the inferno in the tower block was due to the cladding having been designed to meet EU standards. It is a simple matter to discover that the answer to this question is No, but by failing to check it, the newspaper has planted the suspicion that the EU might be to blame for this too. As an aside: a country in which parts of the press are so demonstrably uninterested in truth and exploit a disaster like the fire in Grenfell Tower for their own tasteless ends has a very serious problem.

Already prices are rising in the shops, already inflation is on the up. Investors are holding back. Economic growth has slowed. And that’s before the Brexit negotiations have even begun. With her unnecessary general election, Prime Minister Theresa May has already squandered an eighth of the time available for them. How on earth an undertaking as complex as Brexit is supposed to be agreed in the time remaining is a mystery.

Great Britain will end up leaving its most important trading partner and will be left weaker in every respect. It would make economic sense to stay in the single market and the customs union, but that would mean being subject to regulations over which Britain no longer had any say. It would be better to have stayed in the EU in the first place. So the government now needs to develop a plan that is both politically acceptable and brings the fewest possible economic disadvantages. It’s a question of damage limitation, nothing more; yet even now there are still politicians strutting around Westminster smugly trumpeting that it will be the EU that comes off worst if it doesn’t toe the line.

The EU is going to be dealing with a government that has no idea what kind of Brexit it wants, led by an unrealistic politician whose days are numbered; and a party in which old trenches are being opened up again: moderate Tories are currently hoping to be able to bring about a softer exit after all, but the hardliners in the party – among them more than a few pigheadedly obstinate ideologues – are already threatening rebellion. An epic battle lies ahead, and it will paralyse the government.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said that he now expects the Brits to finally set out their position clearly, since he cannot negotiate with himself. The irony of this statement is that it would actually be in Britain’s best interests if he did just that. At least that way they’d have one representative on their side who grasps the scale of the task and is actually capable of securing a deal that will be fair to both sides. The Brits do not have a single negotiator of this stature in their ranks. And quite apart from the Brexit terms, both the debate and the referendum have proven to be toxic in ways that are now making themselves felt.

British society is now more divided than at any time since the English civil war in the 17th century, a fact that was demonstrated anew in the general election, in which a good 80% of the votes were cast for the two largest parties. Neither of these parties was offering a centrist programme: the election was a choice between the hard right and the hard left. The political centre has been abandoned, and that is never a good sign. In a country like Great Britain, that for so long had a reputation for pragmatism and rationality, it is grounds for real concern. The situation is getting decidedly out of hand.

After the loss of its empire, the United Kingdom sought a new place in the world. It finally found it, as a strong, awkward and influential part of a larger union: the EU. Now it has given up this place quite needlessly. The consequence, as is now becoming clear, is a veritable identity crisis from which it will take the country a very long time to recover.[15]

On 20 June 2017, the day after Brexit Secretary David Davis opened the first round of negotiations in Brussels,[16] LBC radio presenter James O'Brien claimed he had proof that Conservative MPs believe leaving the European Union will be a disaster - no one wants to be Prime Minister through Brexit.[17]

A Tory Brexit

In English: Brexit Meanz Beanz

In an article dated 31 March 2017, The Canary reported:

Voting to leave the EU is not inherently racist or foolish. Even those of us who would have chosen to remain in the EU cannot ignore its serious flaws. Particularly its anti-democratic tendencies. In recent years, the EU deposed the democratically elected leaders of Greece and Italy, and replaced them with pro-austerity technocrats.[18] This is a challenge to democracy. It is not ignorant or bigoted to question a continuing and deepening alliance to such a system.

But the left-wing Brexit of greater democracy and protection from radical neoliberal austerity is never going to happen under this current government. May’s Brexit is about quite the opposite. The PM is more interested in dismantling hard-won rights. And cutting the taxes paid by wealthy individuals and corporations.

In order to protect Britain from the losses associated with leaving the single market, May’s government has confirmed it would turn Britain into a tax haven – cutting corporation taxes radically to attract business.[19] May has also campaigned to withdraw Britain from the European Convention on Human Rights,[20] and has steadfastly refused to guarantee working people’s rights after Brexit. The rights that ensure us all a minimum wage, maximum hours, and safe workplaces. The ones that all but ended sweatshop/workhouse conditions in the UK. Yet these rights may well end up on the chopping block as May courts corporations to stay in the country.[21]

UKIP has enabled this. It has sold working-class Britain a lemon.[22]

Article 50

On 2 October 2016, the first day of the Conservative Party conference, Prime Minister Theresa May announced she would trigger Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union by the end of March 2017 which would make the UK set to leave the EU by the end of March 2019. Although the terms for withdrawal have not been established, May has promised a Bill to remove the European Communities Act 1972 from the statute book and to transfer existing EU laws into the UK domestic law.[23]

On 3 November 2016, upon an application by Gina Miller and others, the High Court ruled that Theresa May's government could not trigger Article 50 without first consulting Parliament.[24]

On 20 March 2017, a Downing Street spokesman announced that Prime Minister Theresa May is to officially notify the European Union on Wednesday 29 March 2017 that the UK is leaving.[25] Her letter invoking Article 50 was delivered to Donald Tusk, Chair of the European Council, at 12:20 hours BST, after which she made a statement to the House of Commons.[26]

Reversing Brexit

In November 2017 on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, former diplomat Lord Kerr said the EU treaty allows the UK to change its mind up to moment of leaving:

“At any stage we can change our minds if we want to, and if we did we know that our partners would actually be very pleased indeed. The Brexiters create the impression that is because of the way Article 50 is written that having sent in a letter on 29 March 2017 we must leave automatically on 29 March 2019 at the latest. That is not true. It is misleading to suggest that a decision that we are taking autonomously in this country about the timing of our departure, we are required to take by a provision of EU treaty law.”[27]

The European Court of Justice has set a 27 November 2018 date for a hearing to decide whether Britain’s parliament can unilaterally change its mind on Brexit, and hopes to make a decision on the case before Christmas.[28]

Brexit balance sheet

Brexit Calc.jpg
US gains from UK Brexit losses

Phil Moorhouse (science teacher, socialist, Pro-EU, Yorkshireman, political commentator on YouTube, explains:

"With the Brexit exodus of eye watering amounts of assets from Britain's financial centre in London, it isn't just the EU that is benefitting, but the United States as well.
"Nearly a quarter of the total wealth of the UK-worth of derivatives has been lost from the City of London as a result of Brexit, and Wall Street has been the main beneficiary.
"Wall Street took the bulk of a £2.3 trillion loss in derivative trading during March 2021 because of Brexit. The total wealth of the UK is about £10 trillion. So we have lost about a quarter of the value of the entire country in a month!"[29]


Related Quotations

Theresa May“Brexit means Brexit, and we're going to make a success of it.”Theresa MayJuly 2016
Mark Rutte“I'm totally, totally, totally against referendums on multilateral agreements.”Mark Rutte
Frans Timmermans“They are now being disappointed. Look at what the divisiveness of Brexit has done to the UK. Today, the UK looks like Game of Thrones on steroids.”Frans Timmermans16 May 2019


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  1. "UK officials seek draft agreements with EU before triggering article 50"
  2. "How will the Brexit transition period work?"
  3. "EU referendum: Would Brexit violate UK citizens' rights?"
  4. "UK officials seek draft agreements with EU before triggering article 50"
  5. "Red-faced Iain Duncan Smith takes back bizarre claim one of Britain's top barristers is a 'second-rate lawyer'"
  6. "Pound falls back as Davis says government cannot outline Brexit aims in detail"
  7. "'No turning back' on Brexit as Article 50 triggered"
  8. "Tweet from Joanna Cherry"
  9. "Recall MPs from holiday to vote on May's Brexit deal, says Corbyn"
  10. "Both Brexit and Remain MPs opposed May's deal: this is why"
  11. "Labour in bid to stop Theresa May 'running down the clock' on Brexit with meaningful vote deadline"
  12. "Theresa May to offer Donald Tusk £40bn Brexit divorce bill"
  13. "Theresa May to offer Donald Tusk £40bn Brexit divorce bill"
  14. "Lachnummer Europas"
  15. "Laughing stock of Europe"
  16. "Frazzled David Davis guides UK to 3-0 defeat in first round"
  17. "James O'Brien Has Proof That Politicians Know Brexit Will Be A Disaster"
  18. "Technocrats have taken over governments in Southern Europe"
  19. "Theresa May 'stands ready' to turn Britain into a tax haven after Brexit"
  20. "Theresa May 'will campaign to leave the European Convention on Human Rights in 2020 election'"
  21. "Government refuses to guarantee workers' rights after Brexit"
  22. "UKIP leader Paul Nuttall had no place being on Question Time last night. Now he wishes he wasn’t"
  23. "Brexit: PM to trigger Article 50 by end of March"
  24. "R (Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, 2016 EWHC 2768 (Admin)"
  25. "Article 50: Theresa May to trigger Brexit process next week"
  26. "Historic Article 50 letter delivered"
  27. "Brexit is reversible even after date is set, says author of article 50"
  28. "ECJ to hear case on whether UK alone can reverse Brexit on November 27"
  29. "Brexit Financial Services Loss is America's Gain"