From referendum to trade deal – the timeline of how

UK chief trade negotiator, David Frost looks on as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson signs the Brexit trade deal with the EU – Leon Neal/Getty Images Europe

After four years, three Prime Ministers and more than 40 votes in Parliament, the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union with a deal.

Boris Johnson’s pledge to “Get Brexit Done” has been honoured at the eleventh hour, and his trade deal with the EU carried the support of the Labour Party through the House of Commons.

The road has been long and winding, with late-night votes, last-ditch talks and rebellions on both sides of the House.

But on December 31 at 11pm, the UK will become an independent coastal state once again.

This is how the political drama unfolded.


June 23: The UK holds a referendum on whether to leave the European Union. 52 per cent of voters vote to leave.

June 24: David Cameron announces his resignation as Prime Minister.

July 13: Theresa May is elected leader of the Conservative party and becomes Prime Minister.

December 7: The House of Commons votes 461 to 89 in favour of Mrs May’s plan to trigger Article 50 by the end of March 2017.


January 24: British businesswoman Gina Miller takes the Government to court and wins the argument that Parliament must pass legislation to authorise the triggering of Article 50.

January 26: The UK Government introduces a 137-word bill in Parliament to empower Mrs May to initiate Brexit by triggering Article 50. It is supported across the House and the Bill receives Royal Assent on March 16.

March 29: Mrs May formally invokes Article 50, starting a two-year process with the UK due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019.

Theresa May in the cabinet signing the Article 50 letter, preparing to trigger the start of the UK’s formal withdrawal from the EU – Christopher Furlong /PA

April 18: In a bid to boost the Conservative majority in Parliament and strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations, Mrs May calls a general election. The move backfires as the result is a hung parliament, and the Conservatives agree a confidence and supply agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland.

Theresa May ahead of delivering a statement outside 10 Downing Street in London, Britain, 18 April 2017 – ANDY RAIN /EPA

June 19: Brexit negotiations begin as David Davis, the UK’s chief negotiator, travels to Brussels to meet with Michel Barnier, his EU counterpart.

December 13: Dominic Grieve tabled an amendment to the bill requiring any Brexit deal to be enacted by statute, rather than implemented by Government order. Mr Grieve’s amendment was passed by 309 votes to 305 votes.


May 23: The Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 is enacted to enable sanctions to be imposed following the UK’s departure from the EU.

June 12: Mr Grieve tables an alternative amendment to prevent a no-deal scenario and force the Prime Minister back to the negotiating table if she hadn’t reached an agreement. The motion was defeated by 324 votes to 298 after Mrs May promised that MPs would have a greater say in negotiations if ministers failed to strike a deal in Brussels.

June 18: The amendment was retabled under Lord Hailsham’s name, but after passing in the Lord’s by 354 votes to 235, it failed to win a majority in the Commons after Mrs May conceded more ground. The Government won by 319 votes to 303.

June 26: The Nuclear Safeguards Act 2018 is enacted, which makes legal provision to enable the continuation of nuclear safeguards after the UK’s withdrawal from the European Atomic Energy Community.

July 6: A UK white paper on the future relationship between the UK and the EU, known as the Chequers agreement, is finalised. It leads to a number of resignations, including Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary and Mr Davis as Brexit Secretary.

July 19: Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Act 2018 is enacted to make provision about the international transport of goods by road.

September 13: Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018 reached Royal Assent. The Act seeks to replace the current EU Union Customs Code and amend current UK VAT and excise duty laws.

November 14: The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement is published and endorsed by the 27 EU member states, but leads to the resignation of Dominic Raab as Brexit Secretary.


January 15: The First meaningful vote is held on the Withdrawal Agreement in the UK House of Commons. The UK Government is defeated by 432 votes to 202.

March 12: The Second meaningful vote on the Withdrawal Agreement with the UK Government is defeated again, this time by 391 votes to 242.

March 14: At an impasse, a Government motion to extend the Article 50 period until June 30, 2019 passes 412 to 202.

March 25: Sir Oliver Letwin’s motion to require the Commons to hold a series of indicative votes on the Withdrawal Agreement passes by 329 to 302.

March 27: Eight propositions were voted upon, and all failed to gain a majority. 

They were: “No Deal” by John Baron, “Common Market 2.0” by Nick Boles, “EFTA Membership” by George Eustice, “Customs Union” by Kenneth Clarke, “Labour alternative” by Jeremy Corbyn, “Revocation to avoid No Deal” by Joanna Cherry, “Referendum on the Withdrawal Agreement” by Margaret Beckett, and “Managed No Deal” by Marcus Fysh.

March 29: A third vote on the Withdrawal Agreement, after being separated from the Political Declaration, is defeated by 344 votes to 286.

Theresa May (L) speaking during a debate in the House of Commons on the Government’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill on March 29, 2019 – MARK DUFFY /AFP

April 3: A second round of indicative votes was held, and again, all four failed to gain a majority.

They were: with a “Customs Union” by Kenneth Clarke, with “Common Market 2.0” by Nick Boles, hold a “Confirmatory Public Vote” by Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson, and the “Revocation of Article 50 to avoid No Deal” by Joanna Cherry.

Having failed to gain any consensus, the Cooper-Letwin Bill aimed to oblige the Government to seek consent for any or no extensions to the date of withdrawal from the EU. But to do this, a vote was held to alter the business of the House to allow for more indicative votes on April 8. The result was a tie – 310-310 with 14 abstentions – the first tie since 1993. Following convention, the speaker voted no and the motion was defeated.

May 24: Mrs May announces her resignation as Prime Minister after repeatedly failing to get Brexit legislation passed. On July 24, Mr Johnson becomes the UK’s third Prime Minister since the referendum.

August 28: Mr Johnson announces his intention to prorogue Parliament in September, squeezing the Brexit timetable ahead of October 31 – the latest deadline.

September 3: A motion for MPs to vote on the Benn Bill – where the Prime Minister would be obliged to extend the Brexit withdrawal deadline in certain circumstances – is passed by 328 to 301.

September 4: The Benn Bill itself passes 329 to 300. Later the same day, MPs rejected Mr Johnson’s motion to call an October general election by a vote of 298 to 56. Labour abstain.

September 9: Parliament is prorogued until October 14.

September 25: Parliament recalled after the Supreme Court rules that Mr Johnson is found to have misled the Queen and the prorogation is declared null and void.

October 2: The Government publishes a white paper outlining a new plan to replace the Irish backstop, involving regulatory alignment across the island of Ireland but retaining a customs border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Another prorogation is ordered, until October 14.

October 19: A special Saturday sitting of Parliament is held to debate the revised Withdrawal Agreement but Sir Oliver Letwin’s amendment to the motion, delaying consideration of the agreement until the legislation to implement it has been passed, is voted through – 322 to 306.

This delay activates the Benn Act, requiring the Prime Minister to write to the European Council with a request for an extension of withdrawal until 31 January 2020.

October 21: Speaker John Bercow refuses the Government’s request for a new vote on the withdrawal proposal saying that it is “substantially the same” as the last one.

October 22: The new EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill is approved by 329 votes to 299, but the accompanying “programme motion,” to get all stages of the bill completed before the deadline of October 31, is defeated by 322 votes to 308 after MPs object that this would not allow time for adequate consideration.

October 28: Government motion for an election on December 12 is defeated by 299 to 70 after most Labour MPs abstain.

October 29: To circumvent the Fixed Term Parliament Act, Government introduces the Early Parliamentary General Election Act 2019, which is passed by 438 votes to 20, with more than 100 Labour members abstaining.

December 13: Mr Johnson and the Conservative Party win a landslide victory and have an 80-seat majority in Parliament.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds enter Downing Street as the Conservatives celebrate a sweeping election victory on December 13, 2019 – Peter Summers /Getty

December 20: The Withdrawal Agreement passes its second reading in the House of Commons in a 358-234 vote.


January 22: The Withdrawal Agreement finally passes and reaches Royal Assent after a number of amendments made by the House of Lords are rejected. The Bill passes 342-254.

January 24: Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, Charles Michel, President of the European Council, and Mr Johnson sign the Withdrawal Agreement.

President of the European Council, Charles Michel (right) and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen signing the Agreement on the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU, watched by EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier – European Commission/PA

January 31: Britain officially withdraws from the EU and a one-year transition period is implemented to reach a trade deal.

November 11: The Immigration and Social Security Coordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020 ends the right to free movement of persons under retained EU law.

The Agriculture Act is also passed. Leaving the EU means the UK is leaving the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The Bill provides the legislative framework for replacement agricultural support schemes.

December 30: The trade deal, known as the EU Future Relationship Bill is voted on in Parliament.

Boris Johnson arrives at 10 Downing Street on Wednesday, December 30, 2020 after the trade deal is formally signed – Frank Augstein /AP

An SNP effort to extend the debate from five hours to seven hours is defeated 362-60.

The vote on the trade deal is 521-73, and the UK leaves the EU with a trade deal.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: