Brexit Timetable

With the United Kingdom due to leave the European Union on 31 January 2020, 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. 

8 January 2020

UK Prime Minister meets European Commission President

On 8 January 2020, the newly re-elected UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, met the newly appointed President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in London.

While they briefly spoke about their common school – the European School in Brussels where von der Leyen preceded Johnson – the main topic of discussion was Brexit.

The leaders discussed:

  • the EU-UK withdrawal agreement
  • the ratification process in the UK's Houses of Parliament and the European Parliament

The Prime Minister stressed:

  • his priority was to implement the withdrawal agreement by 31 January 2020
  • the UK would not extend the transition period beyond 31 December 2020

The leaders discussed the Relationship Agreement between the EU and UK. The UK Prime Minister:

  • said he wanted a broad EU/Canada-style free trade agreement between the EU and UK. The agreement would cover both goods and services as well as co-operation in other areas
  • the Court of Justice of the European Union must have no role in the future UK-EU relationship
  • the UK would have control of UK fishing
  • the UK would have control of the UK immigration system
  • the UK would ensure high standards in regard to employment, the environment, agriculture and animal welfare

The UK Prime Minister described the meeting as "positive". He wanted a positive new UK and EU partnership, based on friendly cooperation, the shared history, interests and values. Such optimistic and warm words are relatively easy at this stage given that the negotiation process has yet to commence in earnest.

The European Commission President spoke about the relationship being one of "old friends, new beginnings". She stressed that the EU fully respects the decision by the UK to leave the EU but the decision brings with it consequences, as no relationship can be as close as being a member of the EU. The EU will, the President said, negotiate in good faith, in the framework of the Political Declaration, with the aim of achieving the best possible outcome. She stressed that time is short for such an agreement to be reached and then ratified before the end of 2020. The President made clear that there is a trade-off between any regulatory divergence and access to the EU market.

The Brexit negotiation process is beginning again. While some of the players have changed (Theresa May has been replaced by Boris Johnson while Jean Claude Juncker has been replaced by Ursula von der Leyen), Michel Barnier will still be centre stage. While much may have changed, much will remain the same.

9 January 2020

UK's House of Commons passes the Withdrawal Agreement Bill 2019-2020

On 9 January 2020, the UK's House of Commons passed the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill 2019-20 (WAB). Despite over 100 amendments being tabled, the WAB was passed unchanged.

The WAB has now passed to the House of Lords. It has already had its first reading. The current timetable in the House of Lords is:

  • 13 January 2020: Second Reading
  • 14, 15 and 16 January 2020: Committee Stage - this will be a committee of the whole House of Lords
  • 21 January 2020: Report State
  • 21 January 2020: Third Reading

If the House of Lords approves the WAB then it returns to the House of Commons.  

The WAB must be approved by both the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The bill passed by both houses must then receive Royal Assent.

It the WAB is enacted and given Royal Assent by 31 January 2020 then the UK may leave the EU as (re)scheduled on 31 January 2020.

If the WAB has not been enacted and given Royal Assent by 31 January 2020 then the UK would not be able to leave the UK on 31 January 2020 with the current deal but would have to leave without a deal, seek (and be granted) an extension or revoke the Article 50 notice. The current expectation is that the WAB would be enacted.

31 January 2020

Following the achievement of an overall majority for the Conservative Party in the House of Commons and the promise made by all Conservative Party candidates to support the Revised Withdrawal Agreement, it is now very likely that the UK will leave the European Union on 31 January 2020. The UK Parliament still has to approve the Revised Withdrawal Agreement. 

While the UK Government is hoping for a trade deal to be completed between the UK and the EU by 31 December 2020, it is very unlikely that a comprehensive agreement would be possible in such a timeframe – it may be that a slimmed down version would be possible but a full-blown radically different agreement would be both unprecedented and unlikely in the space of 11 months.

Parties to the Revised Withdrawal Agreement (UK and EU Member States) complete their ratification

UK leaves the EU - 23:00 (GMT) on 31 January 2020

Withdrawal agreement would enter into force - 00:00 (GMT+1) on 1 February 2020

20 February 2020

New Dáil Éireann to Sit following Irish General Election

On 14 January 2020, the Irish President dissolved Dáil Éireann – the lower house of the Irish parliament.

Exercising his powers under Article 13.2 of the Constitution, the President dissolved the lower house (which is, in reality, more important that the upper house or Seanad Éireann) on the advice of the Irish Taoiseach / Prime Minister.

The President has summoned the incoming Dáil to meet at noon on Thursday, 20 February 2020.

This means, somewhat curiously, that if there was any last minute emergency or issue relating to the UK's planned departure from the European Union on 31 January 2020, the Irish Parliament would not ordinarily be in session.

30 June 2020

If the current Withdrawal Agreement is approved and the UK leaves on 31 January 2020 then the "transition" or "implementation" period would expire on 31 December 2020 but the UK could ask for an extension.

If the UK wants an extension (and only the UK may ask for an extension) then currently it must ask for one by 30 June 2020 but the UK Government has included in the UK's Withdrawal Agreement Bill a prohibition on any extension.

31 December 2020

If the current Withdrawal Agreement is approved and the UK leaves on 31 January 2020 then the "transition" or "implementation" period would expire on 31 December 2020.

If the UK wants an extension (and only the UK may ask for an extension) then currently it must ask for one by 30 June 2020 but the UK Government has included in the UK's Withdrawal Agreement Bill a prohibition on any extension.

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.

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 and 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 October 2019:

On 19 October 2019, after a day in the House of Commons which the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson must have found frustrating (because the Meaningful Vote on his Revised Withdrawal Agreement did not take place), the Prime Minister sent an unsigned letter to the President of the European Council. 

The letter was in the format prescribed by the UK's "European Union (Withdrawal) (No.2) Act 2019" – the Benn Act. This would ordinarily be seen as an application to extend the period of notice given to the EU under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.

What made the letter somewhat unusual was that it was unsigned and was accompanied by a signed letter from the Prime Minister which sought to undermine it.

Will the EU accept the unsigned letter? 

In all probability, the European Council has the ability, legally, to accept it. EU Regulations, Directives and Decisions are published in the Official Journal of the European Union without a signature and just with the typed name of a person approving it. Equally, the judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union have the typed names of the judges but no signatures. However, treaties are usually printed with copies of signatures. So, it is quite likely that the "pretence" that the Prime Minister did not really send it will not work at the EU level – particularly, as the Prime Minister wrote an accompanying signed letter seeking to undermine it. It is possible that a different result could be reached at the UK national level – e.g., in the Scottish courts - but the EU would hardly trigger a No Deal Brexit by saying that the letter was invalid because it was not signed.

Will the EU extend? 

Quite likely. The EU has gone to great lengths to avoid being blamed for, or pushing the UK into, a No Deal Brexit. So, the European Council will probably extend the notice period. The current extension runs out on 31 October 2019. This was when the current Juncker Commission was due to step down but it will not be replaced until 1 December 2019 (or later) as three nominees have been rejected by the European Parliament. The European Council might extend until 30 November 2019 but it could:

  • extend until much longer – the UK does not have to use the time available – or
  • not refer to a date but refer to an event or process

So, it is quite likely that there would be an extension and a longer (rather than shorter) extension would avoid this false deadline syndrome continuing unnecessarily – which would be good for society and business.

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

24 October 2019:

Michel Barnier appointed lead the EU’s new Brexit Phase-Two Task Force 

The taskforce is to be known as the ‘Task Force for Relations with the United Kingdom' ("UKTF").  It will be part of the European Commission's Secretariat-General.

While there will have been several Prime Ministers, Secretaries of State for Exiting the European Union and senior officials on the UK side, Michel Barnier has been a continuous presence on the EU side of the negotiations. 

There will, however, be some changes on the EU side.  For example, Jean-Claude Juncker will be replaced as President of the European Commission by Ursula von der Leyen,  while Donald Tusk will be replaced as President of the European Council by Charles Michel.  But Michel Barnier will remain in place.  Such continuity in terms of knowledge and appreciation of all the issues could be invaluable.

The new UKTF will include the current TF50 ('Task Force for the Preparation and the Conduct of the Negotiations with the United Kingdom under Article 50 TEU') and the Secretariat-General's ‘Brexit Preparedness' unit.

The UKTF will:

  • coordinate the European Commission's work on all strategic, operational, legal and financial issues related to Brexit
  • take charge of the finalisation of the Article 50 negotiation
  • continue work on No-Deal Brexit preparations
  • work on the future relationship negotiations with the UK.

The new regime will take effect on 16 November 2019. This is irrespective of whether the UK will still be an EU Member State or not on that date. 

Interestingly, the European Commission has put a date on when its work will start – 16 November 2019 – but no one has set a date for when its work will be completed. 

Indeed, its work will probably last as long as the EU and the UK exist – unless the UK leaves and seeks to re-join when there will be an Article 49 Task Force established to deal with the UK re-accession.  A lesser-known provision in Article 50 is its fifth paragraph: "if a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to re-join, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49."  In other words, it has to go through the full application procedure and unanimity is required among all then existing Member States to allow the Member State to re-join. 

Those involved in Brexit now should take note: that leaving may be difficult,  but re-joining may be impossible.

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 scheduled to step 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.      

As it happens, the President of the European Commission will not now be expected to step down until, it is widely believed, 1 December 2019 due to the European Parliament having some difficulties over three nominees for the incoming European Commission.

Moreover, the UK is now unlikely to be leaving the EU on 31 October 2019 because the Revised Withdrawal Agreement has not been approved by the UK.    

It is still theoretically possible that the UK could leave the EU on 31 October 2019- by default because that is when the extension adopted on 10 April expires - but the UK has asked for an extension of its notice period and it is very likely that the European Council (comprised of the 27 remaining EU Member States) will grant the extension.       

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. However, it is not now likely that the UK will have left the EU by then.

Ursula von der Leyen's Commission was expected to take office on 1 November but it is now expected that she will not take up office until 1 December 2019.  Michel Barnier would remain in place at the European Commission's Brexit Negotiator.