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Brexit... brief

Following the referendum of 23 June 2016 in which a majority of British people (51.89%) expressed their wish to see the United Kingdom leave the European Union (and Euratom), the British government officially launched on 29 March 2017 the procedure for withdrawal from the Union as provided for in Article 50 of the TEU.

On 25 November 2018, a withdrawal agreement was finalised between the EU and the British government, however the House of Commons refused to ratify it three times, resulting in a postponement of the effective date of exit of the United Kingdom three times (29 March 2019 - 31 October 2019 - 31 January 2020) and the conclusion of a second agreement - on 17 October 2019 - to break the deadlock. On 22 January 2020, the British Parliament finally ratified the withdrawal agreement followed one week later by the European Parliament, thus paving the way for the UK's departure on 31 January 2020.

A transition period then begins during which Community law continues to apply in the British Isles to enable the conclusion of the agreements that will govern future relations between the EU and the United Kingdom. Wishing it to be as short as possible and without extension, the British government and the EU have set a deadline of 31 December 2020, the last deadline for negotiating an agreement and avoiding a return to the international rules of the WTO.

After 11 months of negotiations, an agreement was finally reached between the EU and the UK on 24 December 2020 and was approved 6 days later by the British parliament. As the European Parliament was unable to meet in the meantime to ratify the agreement, it applies on a temporary basis from 1 January 2021. 

As the agreement focuses particularly on trade issues, on the regulatory alignment of the two parties and on guarantee and arbitration mechanisms, a number of sectors are therefore excluded, in particular the financial services sector. A specific agreement should therefore be negotiated by March 2021 to establish a new framework for UK and European financial services.

Key dates

  • 23 June 2016

    Referendum – 51.9% of votes in favour of Brexit

  • 19 June 2017

    Start of formal negotiations between the EU and the United Kingdom

  • 15 January 2019

    Rejection of the withdrawal agreement by the British Parliament, followed by successive postponements of the Brexit date.

  • 17 October 2019

    EU adopts exit agreement

  • 9 January 2020

    British MPs approve exit agreement

  • 1 February 2020

    The UK exits the EU

  • March 2020

    Negotiations on future EU-UK relations start, opening a transition period until 31 December 2020 during which EU law continues to apply to the UK

  • 24 December 2020

    Signature of a trade agreement governing future relations between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

  • 31 December 2020

    At the end of the transition period, EU law ceases to apply in the UK. Exit of the United Kingdom from the customs union and the common market.

  • 1 January 2021

    The agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom applies on a temporary basis pending ratification by the European Parliament.

  • March 2021

    Negotiations of a bilateral agreement between the EU and the UK on financial services.