Countdown to Brexit: A timeline

The Union Flag flying in front of the Great Clock of the Elizabeth Tower, at Britain's Houses of Parliament, in central London.
The Union Flag flying in front of the Great Clock of the Elizabeth Tower, at Britain's Houses of Parliament, in central London. PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS (REUTERS) - Prime Minister Theresa May has triggered Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union under Article 50 of the EU treaty on Wednesday (March 29). It should be out in two years.

Here is a timeline, based on a mixture of public information and estimations by EU sources:


March 29: Britain’s EU ambassador delivered a letter from Mrs May to European Council President Donald Tusk, confirming the plan to leave and formally launching the process, nine months after Britons voted in a referendum on June 23, 2016. 


March 31:  Mr Tusk will send the 27 other states draft negotiating guidelines. Brussels envoys of the 27 meet in Brussels to study the draft, and Mr Tusk will outline his views in Malta. 

April 11: Government EU advisers – sherpas – from the 27 are expected to meet in Brussels to revise the guidelines. They are expected to meet again on April 24 for further revisions. 

April 27: EU affairs ministers of the 27 – the General Affairs Council (GAC) – meet in Luxembourg to prepare EU27 summit.

April 29: EU27 leaders meet in Brussels to agree on guidelines and mandate Frenchman Michel Barnier, a former European Commissioner, as chief negotiator.

May 3: After May Day holiday, Mr Barnier likely to go back to GAC with his recommendations for how negotiations should be structured, seeking the governments’ approval.


May 22: The GAC meets, again excluding Britain, to agree legal “negotiating directives” to bind Mr Barnier. This is the full mandate that will let Mr Barnier open negotiations in Brussels.


Early June: Finally, nearly a year after the referendum, British negotiators led by Brexit Secretary David Davis will sit down with Mr Barnier’s EU team. Mr Barnier reckons it will be in early June after governments sign off on his negotiating mandate.  However, “talks about talks” may get under way weeks earlier. Both sides can save time by fixing procedural arrangements – who will meet whom where, speaking what language, and so on.


December: Brussels wants a basic deal on a Withdrawal Treaty by year’s end. Key issues: the exit bill for Britain’s outstanding commitments; treatment of British and EU expats; dealing with outstanding EU legal cases; new border rules.


2018: Mrs May wants to negotiate a comprehensive free trade deal. Few see two years as enough time to agree on one and Brussels wants to hold off starting talks until a divorce deal is clear. But London and some EU states may push for some discussion of the future relationship, if only to clarify how the exit will work.

October-November 2018: Mr Barnier’s target to finalise the Withdrawal Treaty, to give time for ratification by the European Parliament and a majority in the European Council by March 2019.  

Autumn 2018 to Spring 2019: The Scottish government wants an independence vote once a Brexit deal is clear. But, Mrs May has so far rejected the call for a new Scottish referendum until after Britain leaves the EU. 


March 29, 2019: Barring surprises, Britain leaves at midnight, at the end of the last business day of the quarter.


Mrs May and EU leaders say transitional arrangements may well be needed, to allow more time to agree on a future trade deal, and give people and businesses time to adjust to the divorce. Many see another two to five years after Brexit for a final settlement.

If Scotland votes for independence, expect more years to negotiate its split from London and possible re-entry to the EU.