Brexit Guide: where are we now?


This article is updated regularly as events unfold.

The United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union — an economic and political partnership of 28 countries — bringing to an end 46 years of British membership.

Brexit is set to be the most important constitutional shake-up the UK has known since it joined the six-nation European Economic Community in 1973, and represents the first time the European institution has lost a member.

The process has plunged the UK into its worst political and constitutional crisis since the Second World War, forcing the resignation of Prime Minister Theresa May. The country had been due to leave the EU on March 29, 2019, but the revised departure date is now October 31 after gridlock in parliament twice forced the government to seek a delay.

Both of May’s potential successors have vowed to renegotiate a divorce deal — which was struck by London and Brussels and approved by the 27 other EU governments, but then rejected three times by the British parliament. EU leaders have refused to reconsider the terms of the UK’s exit — including arrangements for the Irish border — but are more open to modifying an agreed framework for future ties.

Both sides’ stances appear hard to reconcile. The UK is intent on leaving the EU’s single market and customs union — and taking control of its money, borders and laws. The EU’s priority is to preserve the integrity of its single market, institutions and founding principles.

The possibility of the UK leaving the EU without a deal in the autumn is very real. To differing degrees, the two contenders to become the next British prime minister say they are ready for such an outcome — and would prefer a no-deal Brexit to no Brexit at all. Many in the UK parliament oppose leaving without a deal and have vowed to fight it. Meanwhile, EU leaders are not certain to approve another extension.

A no-deal exit would immediately alter trading and many other arrangements between the UK and the EU. It would hit the UK’s economy but also those of its closest neighbours on the continent — and particularly the island of Ireland, where the survival of a hard-fought peace accord is at stake after decades of political violence.

The UK voted to leave the EU by 52% to 48% in a June 2016 referendum. The result has increased strains between the UK’s individual countries: England (53%) and Wales (52.5%) voted to leave, whereas Scotland and Northern Ireland voted by 62% and 56% respectively to remain in the EU.