Crunch time for talks as Brexit looms

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After weeks of briefings, disunity and threats, the Cabinet pack their bags and head to Chequers on Friday to thrash out a position on Brexit.

Negotiations with the EU over Britain’s withdrawal are entering a crunch time in the final few months, ahead of the March 29 departure.

The Government is expected to produce a white paper before the European Council meets in October, the date earmarked for a deal with the EU to be completed.

Here are the key milestones expected as Britain leaves the European Union:

Countdown to Brexit
(PA Graphics)

July 6 – Chequers summit. A trade white paper may sound innocuous but this is the main impasse, with customs arrangements on the Northern Ireland/Ireland border at its heart. Brexiters want a maximum facilitation (high-tech) model to keep the border fluid, Remainers prefer a customs partnership where the UK collects duties for the EU. The EU has already said neither is acceptable.

July? – Customs Bill. Last week the Commons leader failed to confirm when the Trade Bill and the Taxation (Cross-border) Trade Bill, aka the Customs Bill, would next be put before MPs. The return of the Bills to the Commons could provide fertile ground for MPs to rebel, after the Government narrowly overcame rebellion for pro-European MPs over the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. Parliament rises for the summer recess on July 24 and returns on September 4.


A major review of EU to UK migration and its role in the British economy is due to be published. The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) was commissioned by then home secretary Amber Rudd in July 2017 to help officials draw up a post-Brexit immigration policy. An interim update published in March found that UK businesses view European migrants as more motivated, flexible and willing to work longer hours than the domestic labour force.

September 23 to September 26 – Labour Party conference. Labour has its own divisions over Brexit, with a third of MPs rebelling against the whip in June in favour of the UK adopting the “Norway model” that would see it remain inside the single market. In Brighton last year pro-EU MPs claimed they were blocked from holding a meaningful vote on Brexit and the issue is sure to be a hot topic in Liverpool this time around.

Public opinion of government's Brexit negotiations
(PA Graphics)

October 18 and 19 – Deadline day(s): The EU Council of national leaders. This is the self-imposed deadline for agreeing the legally binding treaty setting out the terms of the UK’s withdrawal agreement and the 21-month transition period. But the mood in Brussels is not optimistic. At June’s meeting leaders of the remaining 27 European Union nations issued a joint call for “realistic and workable” proposals, with French President Emmanuel Macron saying they can “no longer wait” for progress on Brexit.

December 13 and 14 – The final scheduled EU Council meeting of 2018. Possibly the last time a withdrawal agreement could be agreed if October fails, unless an emergency meeting is called.


Winter/spring – Ratification of the withdrawal and transition treaty – if in place – is expected, with MPs in Westminster being given a vote on whether or not to accept the deal, followed by a vote in the European Parliament, which holds a veto.

March 21 and 22 – Final European Council summit in which the UK will take part as a member state. It comes just eight days before Britain quits the EU.

March 29 – Two years after the invocation of Article 50, the UK ceases to be a member of the EU. Because the exact moment of exit is midnight Brussels time, the UK is due to leave at 11pm on March 29. Under the terms of the Brexit Bill, the bulk of Brussels legislation will be automatically transposed on to the UK statute book. Britain will however continue to pay into the EU budget and remain subject to EU rules and regulations – while having no say over them – for the duration of the transition.

June – European Parliament elections take place without the UK.


Michel Barnier has said he expects negotiations to continue on Britain’s future relationship, including a free trade deal, during the transition. The UK will seek talks with other countries on free trade deals, though the Commission insists that these cannot be signed until the transition period is over. Intensive work can be expected on practical arrangements such as the establishment of new regulatory agencies, recruitment of customs and immigration officers and amendment of business contracts.

December 31 – Currently the end of the transition period, coinciding with the end of the EU’s seven-year budget. However, businesses including aviation multinational Airbus have said that this is too short, arguing it needs more time to reorganise its business.

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