Brexit timeline of key events from referendum to EU exit

On January 31 2020, Brexit finally became reality as the United Kingdom officially left the European Union – more than three and a half years since the Brexit referendum. 2020 will be a transition period with most arrangements remaining the same and virtually nothing will change for businesses or for the public during this time. However, on June 15 2020, the UK and the EU announced in a joint statement that the UK will not seek an extension to the transition period meaning that the clock is ticking for the two to agree on their future relationship by the end of this year.

Below is a summary of the key events since the referendum 2016 as well as the important deadlines to look out for in 2020.

23 June 2016

EU referendum

UK holds referendum on its membership of the EU, commonly known as the Brexit referendum. It results in 51.9 per cent of votes being in favour of leaving.

Invocation of article 50

The at-the-time Prime Minister Theresa May triggers Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union, which begins the UK’s withdrawal.

29 March 2017
29 March 2019

Original Brexit day

The UK was originally set to leave the EU on this day. However, the process is delayed as the Withdrawal Agreement drafted and negotiated by the then Prime Minister Theresa May was not approved in the British Parliament and the EU agreed to grant an extension.

Theresa May resigns

Theresa May announces she will resign as Prime Minister.

7 June 2019
23 July 2019

Boris Johnson wins the leadership race

Boris Johnson is elected new leader of the Conservative party with almost twice as many votes as his opponent Jeremy Hunt.

Boris Johnson becomes the new Prime Minister

Following an audience with HM The Queen, Boris Johnson formally becomes the new Prime Minister of the UK and commits to taking the UK out of the EU on 31 October.

24 July 2019
31 October 2019

Brexit deadline

The UK is supposed to leave the EU, but the departure is yet again delayed despite Boris Johnson earlier vowing that Brexit will happen on this day, ‘no ifs or buts’.

General election in the UK

Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party wins a landslide victory taking 365 seats, with the Labour Party second on 202 seats.

12 December 2019
31 January 2020

Brexit day (for real) & Transition period begins

At 11 pm UK time, Brexit finally becomes reality as Britain officially leaves the European Union and enters a transition period that is due to run until the end of the year.

UK-EU future relationship negotiations in 2020

The UK-EU negotiations in 2020 will take place over several negotiation rounds. Areas of discussion include a new trade deal and the terms of the future relationship on a wide range of matters such as good and services, fishing and farming, security cooperation, data policy, education and science.

The transition period
2-5 March 2020

The first round of negotiations takes place

The first rounds of negotiations between the UK and the EU are formally launched in Brussels by the UK’s Chief Negotiator, David Frost, and by the European Commission’s Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier. Barnier warns of serious differences after the first round. The second round, due to take place in mid-March, is postponed due to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic in Europe.

The second round of negotiations takes place

Due to COVID-19, the second round of negotiations takes place via video conference. After the talks, both the UK and the EU issue a similar statement, expressing that limited and disappointing progress has been made so far. The pain points relate especially to fisheries matters, governance and “level playing field” for businesses.

20-24 April 2020
11-15 May 2020

The third round of negotiations takes place.

The third round ends in a similar mood as the second round. Both sides report that little progress has been made on the most significant outstanding issues, with only one scheduled negotiating round left before the crucial June summit.

The fourth round of negotiations takes place

The negotiations end yet again without any major breakthroughs, putting the pressure now on a high-level political meeting between Boris Johnson and the EU’s top official Ursula Von der Leyen, who will meet later this month.

2-5 June 2020
15 June 2020

UK and EU agree not to extend transition period beyond December 2020

A high-level video conference takes place between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and top EU officials, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Following the call, the UK and EU confirm that Britain will not seek an extension to the transition period. However, both parties agree to intensify talks in July.

Further negotiations

July – October 2020
31 October 2020

Deadline for the “legal text” of the agreement to be in place

Taking into account the time needed to ratify a deal, the EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier has stated that a full “legal text” must be in place by this date – at the latest.

Ratification of agreement?

November – December 2020
31 December 2020

Transition period ends

If a trade deal is not in place by this date, the UK will fall back on to WTO rules.

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Article 50 triggered – What happens next

March 29th
Article 50 is officially invoked – Brexit process begins
Unless both sides agree on an extension, the UK and the EU have two years to agree a divorce deal before the bloc’s treaties cease to apply to Britain.

March 30st
Brexit secretary David Davis has unveiled the government’s Great Repeal Bill
The bill will bring all EU laws onto the UK books, converting all EU requirements into British law as soon as Britain exits the bloc, which gives Parliament the power to absorb parts of EU legislation into UK law and scrap elements it does not want to keep.

March 31st
Remaining 27 EU countries will send their guidelines for negotiations
The other 27 EU countries will send their guidelines for the negotiations to the European Council in Brussels, which’ll then draw them together in one draft document and presented by President of European Council Donald Tusk.

April 29th
EU 27 summit.
Deadline for the remaining 27 EU countries to agree on and prepare a joint document outlining what the EU will be seeking in the negotiations. The 27 heads of state will convene in Brussels on this date to approve the final details of what they want and do not want for Brexit.

Immediately after the summit Indications of future relationship between the EU and the UK
The European Commission will publish its negotiation guidelines. The institution will use the document to negotiate with the UK government, given that it is the Union’s main negotiator. The guidelines may give a first indications of what a future relationship between the EU and the UK might look like.

23 April / 7 May 2017
French Presidential Election

May/June Official negotiations between the EU council and the UK government begin
Even with the guidelines ready from both the EU and the UK, the actual Brexit talks have not yet begun. The green light for that will only come from the EU’s foreign affairs ministers. At the moment, foreign affairs ministers have meetings scheduled for 16th of May and 20th of June. They could however schedule an emergency meeting between those dates to approve the kicking off of the talks.

September 24th
German Federal Election
No later than 23 May 2018
Italian General Election

October 2018 – March 2019
Vote on Brexit deal
With a Brexit deal drawn up, the Houses of Parliament, European Council and European Parliament will vote on the terms of the deal, paving the way for an agreement or an extension on the negotiating period.

April 2019
UK departure from the EU should be complete

How long will it take for Britain to leave the EU?
Article 50 is triggered and the UK have two years to negotiate its withdrawal. But no one really knows how the Brexit process will work – Article 50 was only created in late 2009 and it has never been used. Former Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, now Chancellor, wanted Britain to remain in the EU, and he has suggested it could take up to six years for the UK to complete exit negotiations. The terms of Britain’s exit will have to be agreed by 27 national parliaments, a process which could take some years, he has argued.

This update is for general guidance only. Specific legal advice should be obtained in all cases. This material is the copyright of Goodwille Limited (unless otherwise stipulated) and is not to be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written consent.

What does Brexit mean for Europeans who are already resident in the UK?

A guide by Helen Smith, Immigration Lawyer, North Star Law.

While the UK and the rest of the world come to terms with the outcome of Thursday’s referendum, at least one thing is clear: the UK is still a part of the EU until we formally leave, but beyond that, the future is uncertain.

Around 2 million Europeans call the UK home and will rightly be concerned about their future in the UK. This is what we know so far about how Brexit might affect their immigration status:

  1. In the short-term: Nothing changes overnight. The process of leaving the EU is likely to take at least 2 years and while the UK is still part of the EU, we are bound to apply the EU free movement rules. That means EEA nationals and their non-European family members can come to the UK and remain here as workers, students or self-sufficient people. Those who are here in one of those capacities for at least 5 years and have the documents to show it, obtain permanent residence by operation of law. They need permanent residence documents before they can apply to naturalise as British citizens.
  1. In the medium term: I expect we will see a hardening of practices by the Home Office in response to the Leave vote. The government now have a clear political mandate to crack down on the numbers of EU nationals remaining in the UK, so they will make it more difficult for Europeans to obtain residence or permanent residence documents. We are seeing already an enormous backlog in the Home Office European section, with permanent residence applications taking more than the legal maximum of 6 months to be processed and I expect the Home Office to do all they can to make it more difficult for EEA nationals to obtain permanent residence document, as a way of coping with the enormous numbers of applications they receive.
  1. In the long term: when the UK does leave the EU, free movement rights as they exist now are unlikely to apply. We might remain part of the EEA, in which case free movement would apply as it does now, but that would seem to defeat the political purpose of the vote to leave the EU, so is by no means certain. The UK will try to negotiate a deal with the EU that might include the free movement of some workers, but there won’t be any clarity on the effect of any deal for many months, if not years.

A lot has been said about the ‘vested rights’ that Europeans who are already in the UK or UK nationals resident in other EU countries will enjoy. Some academics say vested rights will protect these people, but most reports I’ve seen say that’s not clear and other academics point out that ‘vested rights’ are only meant to apply to states, not to individuals.

What are the implications for employers?

Nothing has changed yet, so employers can continue to employ EEA national workers based solely on their nationality. They do not need to have a visa or a residence card in order to show they have the right to work in the UK. The only exception to this is for Croatians, who acceded relatively recently to the UK and to whom work restrictions still apply.

Family members of EEA nationals also continue to have the right to work in the UK, and they still need specific documentation to be able to show their employers that they enjoy this right.

When negotiations between the UK and the EU start, they will no doubt be centred around the dual pinch points of free trade and free movement of workers. Until the UK actually leaves the EU or negotiates a new deal with the EU, the current system will remain for EEA nationals.

In the mean time, we are expecting other changes that will affect the way the UK immigration system works, though. The Home Office is already swamped with applications from EEA nationals and their family members and is taking longer than normal to process their applications. Other parts of the Home Office will probably also be swamped as worried migrants take all available steps to secure their status in the UK, so we can expect rising processing times across the board. We can also anticipate a hardening of Home Office policy and practice, in the face of pressure to reduce net migration numbers.

Leaving the EU will bring with it the need to reform our domestic immigration system, which is structured around the premise that low-skilled workers can come from within the UK and that the ‘resident labour market’ includes EEA nationals. No announcements have been made yet, but the current points-based system cannot remain unchanged in the face of Brexit.

I will update you as and when any decisions are made on changes to our immigration system.

What can be done?

Swift action by Europeans who are resident in the UK could help to protect them against any changes that are to come. My suggestions would be:

  • If EEA nationals have been resident in the UK for at least 5 years as either a worker, student or self-sufficient person, they can apply for a document showing they have permanent residence in the UK. They are eligible to apply for naturalisation as a British citizen after they have held permanent residence for at least 12 months. British citizens will retain the right to live and work in the UK once the UK exits from the EU, but it’s important to remember that British citizens don’t have the same freedom to bring their non-EEA national family members to the UK (see below).
    • Children of EEA nationals who were born in the UK after their parents had acquired permanent residence, are British by birth and can apply straight for British passports. The Passport Office are becoming increasingly difficult to deal with and I would suggest anyone not sure of how to properly evidence that they have permanent residence should seek advice.
    • If EEA nationals have non-EEA family members planning to relocate to the UK, that process should be started straight away, via a family permit application.
    • Any EEA citizens or their family members who are currently in the UK and have been here for less than 5 years, should ensure they retain all official documents evidencing their residence and status in the UK. If they get to the 5 year mark before Brexit takes effect, they should be able to obtain permanent residence. If they won’t reach that point before the UK leaves the EU, they should consider whether there are steps they can take now to prepare for alternative immigration options. They should be given the right to remain in the UK post-Brexit, but that is not at all clear at present as it depends upon the deal the UK manages to secure with the EU and who is left in charge of the UK once the dust settles.


This update is for general guidance only. Specific legal advice should be obtained in all cases. This material is the copyright of Goodwille Limited (unless otherwise stipulated) and is not to be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written consent.