What to look out for on the road to Brexit

With so many ifs and buts, Brexit is hard to get one’s head around, especially for people planning and managing communications.

To help we’ve set out the key milestones on the road to Brexit and what to look out for at each stage.

12/13 June

This week MPs will consider the amendments made to the Government’s flagship Brexit legislation by the House of Lords.

What to look out for: The Government suffered no fewer than 15 defeats in the Lords. Of crucial interest this week will be whether the Commons reverses the Lords amendments requiring Britain to remain in the single market and the customs union, and to give Parliament more of a say in the negotiation process. Defeat on the first two would imply a softer Brexit and limit the UK’s ability to do trade deals, while defeat on the third would severely restrict the Prime Minister’s room for manoeuvre in the latter stages of the negotiation.

28/29 June

European heads of government get together for their next summit at the end of June. At their last meeting in March, they approved a post-Brexit ‘transition period’ lasting until at least the end of 2020, as well as the negotiating terms for the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

What to look out for: The Irish border and customs are expected to dominate discussions. Any agreement on these issues will be a sign of progress and that the negotiations will be able to move on to future trading arrangements. Conversely no agreement implies subsequent timings are likely to slip.


The Government will bring forward long-awaited legislation on the UK’s future trade and customs arrangements.

What to look out for: While the EU (Withdrawal) Bill is all about maintaining the status quo on Brexit day, these measures are both about the future. Expect the argument between Brexiteer and Remainer MPs on the level of ongoing integration between the UK and EU to continue.

18/19 October

The key summit: the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said negotiations must complete by the end of October to give the EU-27 time to sign off the deal.

What to look out for: Assuming the Irish border and related issues have already been resolved, if things are going well we should see more detail on the transition deal and a separate political declaration outlining the broad terms of the future UK-EU relationship. If not, expect further increasingly fraught negotiations ahead of the final crunch summit in December.

13/14 December

If no deal has been done by October, this will be the final opportunity for Britain and the EU to come to an agreement ahead of March 2019 Brexit deadline.

What to look out for: Signs of compromise on either side to ensure an agreement.

December 2018 - March 2019

The Commons and Lords, EU 27 and European Parliament will all need to ratify the final agreement. Parliament will also need to pass an implementation Bill before Brexit day.

What to look out for: The UK Parliament or one of the EU-27 rejecting the deal. With some countries requiring Parliamentary votes or referenda to pass new treaties, this is entirely possible: the EU’s free trade agreement with Canada was held up by the regional Parliament in Wallona, Belgium, which represents just 3.5 million people.

29 March 2019

Brexit day: the UK formally ends its membership of the European Union at 2300 GMT, or midnight Central European Time.

What to look out for: With the transition period in place, little should substantively change, at least immediately.

April 2019 - December 2020

Negotiating the future UK-EU relationship

31 December 2020

The transition period is due to end and the new economic and political relationship between the UK and the EU begins.

What to look out for: If all goes to plan, the new EU-UK free trade deal takes effect, along with bilateral agreements on security and defence, scientific research and other key issues.

December 2021

The “temporary customs backstop”, which has been the source of the latest disagreements between Ministers, is set to end. Last week, the Brexit Secretary David Davis threatened to resign over concerns that this should have a definite end date, while the Prime Minister wanted an open ended transition to smooth negotiations with the EU.

In the end the can was kicked yet further down the road: the UK referred to this customs backstop as “temporary” no fewer than 22 times, but also said it “expected” a new arrangement to be in place by the end of December 2021.

In other words – you wouldn’t bet against the Brexit timeline extending yet further.

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