Brexit Timetable

With the United Kingdom currently due to leave the European Union on 31 October 2019, our EU Law partner Dr Vincent Power outlines the key dates and events between now and the Brexit deadline, and beyond. 

During this time, it is recommended that business leaders prepare for the possibility of both a No Deal Brexit and a Deal Brexit. 

If there is a "Deal Brexit", this may not be agreed until quite late in the process. Given the limited time available, it is quite possible that a "Deal Brexit" would be quite similar to the 585-page draft Withdrawal Agreement of 14 November 2018 which took months to negotiate and cannot be easily or quickly replaced.

If there is a No-Deal Brexit then businesses should seek legal advice on what EU laws would no longer apply to their operations, and on any other related impacts. 

2 October 2019:

Boris Johnson presented to the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, the UK's latest proposal. 

The UK Prime Minister sent the Commission President a four-page letter and an explanatory memorandum

The proposal represents some progress but it will not be seen by the EU or the Remaining 27 Member States as the "landing space" that Boris Johnson believes.  It is unlikely to be acceptable to the EU unless there are further material amendments to it by the UK. 

There is some time left to discuss and amend the proposal but a final deal has to clear two fences: approval by the EU (in particular the European Council and the European Parliament) and approval by Westminster – neither is certain.

9 October 2019 - 13 October 2019:

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has indicated a desire to have Parliament prorogued by the Queen from the evening of 8 October until 14 October.

Parliament would then commence a new session with a Queen's Speech on 14 October.

If there were to be a General Election in, say, November 2019, then it would be unusual to have a Queen's Speech so close to a General Election.  This is because a Queen's Speech usually sets out the legislation which would be before the parliamentary session which the Queen is opening.

14 October 2019:

The Queen's Speech will be delivered setting out the policies and aims for the next session of Parliament.

This was originally the date on which the Westminster Parliament was to be recalled after prorogation but the prorogation was declared unlawful on 24 September 2019 by the UK Supreme Court.

Anticipate intensive questioning of Ministers and the Prime Minister on Brexit-related matters. Topics are expected to include progress (or lack of it) in the negotiations with the EU, the Yellowhammer documents which were published in part on 11 September 2019 and plans for the European Council Summit.

17-18 October 2019:

Scheduled European Council Summit meeting in Brussels

This is the last scheduled European Council summit before 31 October 2019.  The UK says that it is aiming to have an exit deal agreed at this Summit meeting. This is possible but optimistic. European Council summit meetings can run on late and even be adjourned and resumed later. 

If the UK wants to have something agreed at the summit of 17-18 October 2019 then it cannot realistically hope to table the proposals at the meeting itself because that would be seen as "hijacking" the process. Typically, various aspects of such meetings are "tabled" well in advance and agreed by the "Sherpas" so a last minute deal is more difficult. The nuances and niceties of a deal could certainly be agreed but the broad principles would need to be worked out in advance. 

Given the terms of the European Union Withdrawal (No.2) Act 2019, the effect of a long summit meeting may well be that there would be a breach of the Act if an extension is not sought.

19 October 2019:

The European Union Withdrawal (No.2) Act 2019 could be triggered

The Act provides that if (a) the UK does not agree a deal with the EU or (b) the UK agrees a deal with the EU but the UK Parliament does not approve the deal then the UK Prime Minister must submit a request to the European Council for an extension to the date on which the UK would leave the EU. 

Technically, a Minister must lay before each House of Parliament a statement that the UK has concluded an agreement with the EU under Article 50 and a copy of the agreement and —

  • the agreement has been approved by resolution of the House of Commons on a motion moved by a Minister, and
  • a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the agreement has been tabled in the House of Lords by a Minister of the Crown and the House of Lords has not objected.

19 October 2019 is so close to the date of the European Council summit meeting - because the summit could well run over – the Act could be triggered. There could be litigation and controversy about this Act and how it operates.

21 - 27 October:

Expected debate in the House of Commons, but approval would be needed on 19 October 2019 under the European Union Withdrawal (No.2) Act 2019

31 October 2019:

This is the date set by the EU27 on 10 April 2019 under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union for the UK leaving the EU. (The EU27 are the EU Member States other than the UK.)

31 October 2019 was the date chosen at its meeting on 10 April 2019 by the European Council as the extension. 

The date was apparently chosen because the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission are stepping down on 31 October 2019 as new Presidents will be appointed with effect on 1 November 2019.  Ironically, the EU institutions are typically closed on 1 November 2019 ("All Saint's Day").  It is notable that the date of 31 October 2019 was chosen by the EU and not the UK.                                                                                   

1 November 2019:

If the UK leaves on 1 November 2019 then this would be the first date of UK outside the EU since the UK acceded to the European Communities 43 years ago on 1 January 1973.

New European Commission would be appointed.

Ursula von der Leyen's Commission expected to take office.  Michel Barnier would remain in place at the European Commissioner's Brexit Negotiator.

Spring 2021:

If there is an agreement on the basis of the current Withdrawal Agreement this is when the "transition" or "implementation" period would expire

If there is an agreement along the lines of the November 2018 draft Withdrawal Agreement then there would be a transition period (according to the EU) or an implementation period (according to the UK).  It was to be around 19 months and to end on 31 December 2020.  If a similar concept is used then it would probably end on the last day of a month.

Future:

If the UK leaves the EU then it can be expected that the EU and the UK will continue to negotiate treaties, agreements and arrangements to cover all manner of issues over time. 

This is no different that the position of Switzerland which is continually negotiating agreements with the EU. 

The main agreement would be the Relationship Agreement/Free Trade Agreement – how easy that negotiation would be will be depend on how the UK and the EU deal with this first phase (the Withdrawal Agreement) which has proved more difficult and tricky that most anticipated.

Past events

16 September 2019:

Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets with European Commission President Juncker and European Commissioner Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier.  PM Johnson also pays a courtesy visit on Luxembourg's Prime Minister.

No one should have expected any major breakthrough at this meeting.  It was too early in the process - and any deal agreed that early could be easily undone in the 45 days before 31 October 2019.  This was more a "getting to know you better" session.  It is worth recalling that Jean-Claude Juncker will be stepping down as President of the European Commission on 31 October 2019 but Michel Barnier will continue in office as the European Commission Brexit Negotiator. 

The solo press conference by Luxembourg's Prime Minister exhibited an annoyance by some EU leaders about how this "party political" issue in one Member State is clouding EU progress. The key lesson is that an extension will not be easy to obtain, but it would be harder to refuse.

17 September 2019:

a) UK Supreme Court case on prorogation of Parliament commences in London.

This case is for the UK Government to lose. The starting point by most courts is that "political" decisions are not "justiciable" (i.e., political decisions are not subject to review by a court). However, the full Supreme Court might make a subtle distinction that the right to request prorogation is ordinarily a political manner (and not justiciable) but, in this case it is justiciable and then decide how it was exercised in this case was a legal issue and therefore capable of review.  

If the Supreme Court were to find that the UK Government and the UK Prime Minister acted inappropriately then the consequences could be profound. If the UK Supreme Court upholds the prorogation of parliament (i.e. suspension of parliament) and thereby disagrees with the Scottish Inner Court of Session then Scottish nationalists will highlight the differences between the way things are done in Scotland and the way they are done in London.

The Supreme Court heard from counsel for the appellants, counsel for the respondents and those intervening in appeals. The hearings were held between 17-19 September 2019 with judgment(s) to follow early in the week of 23 September.  It may be that the Supreme Court does not issue a unanimous judgment but gives a split decision which could be quite divisive.  It would be well worth watching how the Supreme Court deals with the twin issues of (a) justiciability of the prorogation (i.e. is it a matter for the courts) and (b) if it is justiciable, whether the exercise of the power was lawful.  The first question will have longer term consequences for the UK.  The second question, depending on how it is answered, could have significant short term consequences.

b) Ireland's lower house of parliament, Dail Éireann, resumes after the Summer break

It is anticipated that the unity among the Irish political parties will be sustained.  However, any concession by the Irish Government on the current backstop could result in some criticism from some other political parties. 

The Irish Government will be heartened by the steadfast support for Ireland from the other Member States.  The EU is showing the being a "small" Member State is not an obstacle in a curious rebalancing of international diplomacy.

18 September 2019:

Commission President Juncker indicates some flexibility on the Backstop

In the European Parliament, President Juncker indicated that the European Commission has no emotional attachment to the Backstop which could indicate that an alternative measure which had equivalent effect could be considered. 

It may be difficult to achieve such an alternative in the timetable but there could be some room for manoeuvre.

19 September 2019:

UK has reportedly has tabled written proposals

European Council Summits are usually preceded by detailed negotiations, consideration of "papers" and even "non-papers" as well as negotiations.  The UK is reported to have finally tabled "non-papers" and this could facilitate a deal.  (A non-paper is a paper which is non-binding and does not limit the room for manoeuvre on the part of the entity which is tabling it.)

24 September 2019

UK Supreme Court Judgement

In a unanimous judgment, the 11-member UK Supreme Court held that the Prorogation of the UK Parliament was:

  • justiciable – and therefore the decision to prorogue (i.e., suspend parliament) is susceptible to judicial review by the court; and
  • unlawful – breached the law.

It means that the UK Parliament was never prorogued so it is expected to resume sitting on 25 September 2019. 

A further prorogation is not impossible to cover the UK Conservative Party conference but it would be very controversial. 

Whatever happens, the days remaining before 31 October 2019 are going to become even more uncertain and unstable.  This judgment does not stop Brexit or stop the UK leaving on 31 October 2019.  However, it means that there will be greater scrutiny of the Government's actions by Parliament and there could be further legislation adopted relating to Brexit.  The chances of Brexit being delayed before 31 October 2019 have increased slightly (rather than there being a No-Deal Brexit) unless a deal is reached between the UK and the EU  The chances of a deal are dependent on real, substantive and "legally operational" proposals being tabled by the UK – it might well be the case that the EU will say that such proposals were not tabled on time by the UK.  Business leaders should expect continued uncertainty in the 37 days between now and 31 October 2019.

Read the judgment and summary issued by the UK Supreme Court. 

25 September 2019

Westminster Parliament to resume after its prorogation on 10 September 2019

Parliament to resume on 25 September 2019 following the judgment of the UK Supreme Court that the prorogation of 10 September 2019 was unlawful.

Anticipate intensive questioning of Ministers and the Prime Minister on Brexit-related matters. Topics are expected to include progress (or lack of it) in the negotiations with the EU, the Yellowhammer documents which were published in part on 11 September 2019 and plans for the European Council Summit.

29 September 2019 - 2 October 2019:

UK Conservative Party Conference

This meeting in Manchester is important in the EU timetable. Conservative Party conferences have been important in the Brexit process (e.g., the announcement at the 2016 Conference in Birmingham by Theresa May that the Article 50 notice would be served no later than the end of March 2017). 

While there may be pressure to do a deal with the EU, there may be political advantage for Boris Johnson's Government not to have "done the deal" by the time of the conference to avoid criticism and dissension.