The story so far…
September 1944 – Benelux economic union formed in Western Europe consisting of Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg.
March 1957 – The European Economic Community (EEC) is officially formed by the Treaty of Rome, consisting of the Benelux countries plus France, West Germany and Italy.
January 1973 – After previous attempts to join the EEC were famously blocked by French president Charles de Gaulle, the UK finally joins the EEC, along with Ireland and Denmark, effective 1 January 1973.
June 1975 – A public referendum held on 5 June asks the country: “Do you think the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community?” – Voters choose by 67.2% to 32.8% to remain.
November 1993 – The European Union (EU) is formed through the Maastricht Treaty (signed on 7 February 1992), ultimately replacing the EEC and expanding the constitutional powers of the European Community.
December 2011 – Prime Minister David Cameron becomes the first leader to veto a new EU-wide Treaty which sought to help address the euro’s debt crisis. (The UK had negotiated exemption from the Eurozone in 2003).
January 2013 – Cameron’s big speech about the challenges facing Europe, leading to his promise of membership renegotiation with the EU.
May 2015 – Conservative Party wins the UK General Election on 7 May with an outright majority of 12 seats, enabling David Cameron to make good on his manifesto promise to hold a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.
February 2016 – Results of the UK’s renegotiation of EU membership agreed and announced on 19 February and a date is set for the referendum, with Cameron announcing that the government would campaign to Remain within ‘a reformed European Union’.
June 2016 – The referendum is held on 23 June and results come in 51.9% for Leave and 48.1% for Remain (with a national turnout of 71.5%). This effectively voided the UK’s renegotiated terms and Cameron announces his resignation as prime minister.
October 2016 – New Prime Minister Theresa May, who took office on 13 July, states that she plans to invoke Article 50 of the EU Treaty, thereby taking the UK out of the EU.
March 2017 – Mrs May’s signed order is to delivered the Council of EU, starting the countdown to the British Exit on 29 March 2019.
April 2017 – Theresa May decides to call a snap general election for 8 June 2017, aiming to secure a larger working majority which she hoped would strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations, which are put on hold until after the election.
June 2017 – Mrs May’s plans are thwarted as the Conservative Party suffers a net loss of 13 seats and loses its majority. However, they remain in power as a minority government after securing an arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland, which won a DUP party record of 10 parliamentary seats.
June 2017 – Formal negotiations for Brexit commence in Brussels on 19 June, with an agreement to prioritise the matter of residency rights of EU citizens living and working in the UK and those of UK citizens in Europe.
March 2018 – UK and EU agree a resolution with a date for the transition period, but accept that nothing is binding until everything is agreed; the question of how to deal with the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland – which is an open border within a common travel area – remains a major sticking point in the negotiations.
July 2018 – The government publishes its ‘Chequers Plan’ on 12 July, insisting that withdrawal from the EU would go ahead on 29 March 2019; however May also stated that the EU must change their proposals for the Irish border and that there would be no further compromises.
August 2018 – Discussions continue as the EU proposes a ‘backstop’ to maintain a frictionless trade border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Michel Barnier – the European Chief Negotiator for the UK’s Exit from the European Union – cast doubt on a trade deal between a post-Brexit UK and the EU being agreed before the 17 October EU summit, but both parties continue to hold talks.
October 2018 – The EU Summit in Brussels on 17/18 October resolves the Gibraltar issue with Spain, but the Irish border issue remains the big stumbling block, as May states that “any circumstance in which Northern Ireland could be in a separate customs territory to the UK is unacceptable.”
November 2018 – The UK government and the EU agree a proposed withdrawal agreement and a transition period lasting until 31 December 2020. On 25 November, all 27 leaders of the other EU countries endorse the Brexit agreement.
December 2018 – After receiving a hostile reaction in the UK House of Commons debate, amid deep concerns about the Irish backstop and a potentially indefinite and costly transition period, Theresa May cancels the vote planned for 11 December, recognising that the deal “would be rejected by a significant margin.”
January 2019 – Mrs May’s first ‘meaningful vote’ (i.e. parliamentary votes on Brexit) is rejected by the House of Commons.
March 2019 – A second meaningful vote is rejected. The House votes against leaving the EU without a deal. The EU agrees to an extension for the deadline to 12 April 2019, after when the UK would be required to participate in the European elections. Over a million people march through central London on 23 March demanding a ‘People’s Vote’ for a final say on Brexit.
29 March 2019 – The original Brexit date passes as a third meaningful vote is also rejected.
April 2019 – May asks for a further extension of the Brexit deadline and concedes that the UK must now make preparations for the European Parliament elections on 23 May, or leave without a deal on 1 June. A compromise deadline date of 31 October 2019 is agreed, with a review scheduled for 20-21 June to assess progress.
23 May 2019 – The Conservative Party pays the price for failing to deliver Brexit and comes fifth in the UK’s European Elections with just 9.1% share of votes, winning only 4 of the 73 UK seats. The newly-formed Brexit Party win 29 seats with 31.6% share of votes, helping the total pro-leave share of vote reach 44% (34 MEPs). The Liberal Democrats win 16 seats (20.3% share), decisively beating the Labour Party into third place (10 seats, 14.1% share). The Green Party come fourth with 12.1% share (7 seats), while the SNP win the biggest share in Scotland.
24 May 2019 – Theresa May finally announces her resignation, stepping down as leader of the Conservative Party on 7 June and triggering a leadership contest which will decide who takes over as UK prime minister in July.