Already 2019 is a year of political drama with unprecedented battles over Brexit. There are just weeks left before Britain leaves the EU, and there still isn’t a solid plan. If MPs, the EU and government don’t agree a deal by 29 March, the UK will leave the European Union without agreement. That’ll mean trade tariffs, tailbacks as customs checks ramp up at ports, and more complicated passport and pet travel applications. Emergency plans will have to come into effect to prevent flights being grounded, food running out and a run on the banks. So what are the key dates in the process in 2019 – and beyond? We look at the timetable here.
JANUARY 15: MPs hold historic vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal. The deal – already delayed by a month – looked doomed to defeat after EU chiefs refused to kill a ‘backstop’ clause, which could trap the UK under EU customs rules.
JANUARY 16: Labour’s first chance to table a No Confidence motion. If the deal is defeated, Labour could lay a no confidence motion in the government at this point, with a vote on January 17. If the government loses, it would start a 14-day clock to triggering a general election.
JANUARY 21: Theresa May must return to Parliament with a ‘Plan B’ if her deal is defeated.
JANUARY 31: MPs get a vote on Theresa May’s Plan B. But as it stands the vote is only on a ‘neutral motion’ – which usually means the government won’t be legally obliged to follow it.
FEBRUARY: A maze of different options. If a deal is agreed, it’ll be rushed through dozens of national parliaments and back to Brussels for final sign-off. If it’s not, MPs will be looking at extending Article 50 (the 29 March Brexit date); forcing an election; holding a second referendum and more – all while billions is spent on last-minute No Deal planning.
MARCH 7: The earliest possible general election if Labour calls a no confidence vote. For this to happen a no confidence vote would need to be called and won immediately after the January 15 vote. That triggers a 14-day countdown to an election campaign. Then, in turn, there’s a 25 working day countdown to the election itself.
MARCH 21-22: Last EU summit the UK is due to attend.
MARCH 29: Brexit. If there’s a deal, this will be a total anticlimax because a transition will be in place. If there’s No Deal, planes could be grounded, ports jammed up and customs checks thrown into chaos at 11pm, when Brexit officially takes force.
MAY 24: European Parliament elections. The timing of these makes it difficult for Britain to extend Article 50.
DECEMBER 12: The earliest Tories can force another leadership contest against Theresa May, because they have to wait a year between each one. If she survives this long, that is.
MARCH 2020: Government must report by this date on its work to avoid the Northern Ireland ‘backstop’ kicking in.
JUNE 2020: Deadline to extend transition period. If there’s a deal, a transition period is meant to end on 31 December (see below). But it can be extended in a one-off move to avoid the ‘backstop’ kicking in. The government has agreed to give MPs a vote on which option to choose. But it’s unclear how this would work – because any decision also needs to be approved by EU members on a committee.
31 DECEMBER 2020: Transition ends. If there’s a deal, this is when the transition period – which continues pretty much all the EU rules we have now – is supposed to end. There needs to be a deal for future trade by this point. And EU citizens arriving after this point won’t have a guaranteed right to stay in the UK.
1 JANUARY 2021: ‘Backstop’ kicks in if there’s a Brexit deal, but still no arrangement to stop customs checks on the Northern Ireland border. This would keep the UK tied to EU customs rules indefinitely, until a proper agreement is reached, in exchange for keeping the border open. Some trade would need checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, however.
30 JUNE 2021: ‘Settled status scheme’ closes for EU citizens to register to stay in the UK if there is a deal.
5 MAY 2022: The next scheduled general election. Amazingly, the transition period – if it gets extended – could still be going on at this point. Theresa May has said she will stand down BEFORE this election – if she’s managed to cling on that long, that is.