It’s all over. There is no going back. The UK has left the EU after 47 years. So how did we get here?

* * *

23 June 2016





EU referendum postal voting form



An EU referendum postal voting form. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The UK votes to leave the EU by a slim majority, 51.9% to 48.1%, setting the ball rolling on one of the most tumultuous chapters in recent British history. It will involve supreme court challenges, the prorogation of parliament, sackings of some of the most senior politicians in the Conservative party, and even splits in the future prime minister’s own family, with Boris Johnson’s brother quitting government and his sister running for election with a rival political party.

* * *

24 June 2016

David Cameron resigns, bringing an abrupt end to his six-year premiership.

* * *

25 June 2016

Front pages reflect the divisions that are to come.





Front pages, 25 June 2016



Front pages, 25 June 2016. Photograph: PA
  • Daily Mail: Take a bow, Britain. “It was the day the quiet people of Britain rose up against an arrogant, out-of-touch political class and a contemptuous Brussels elite.”

  • The Sun: Why should I do the hard s**t? With Cameron photo.

  • The Guardian: Over. And out.

  • Le Monde: Good luck.

* * *

30 June 2016





Boris Johnson and Michael Gove



Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, 24 June 2016. Photograph: Mary Turner/Pool/EPA

Boris Johnson rules himself out of race to become Conservative party leader, having been dealt a fatal blow when his former Vote Leave ally Michael Gove announced he was standing.

* * *

13 July 2016





Theresa May and her husband, Philip, enter Downing Street



Theresa May and her husband, Philip, enter Downing Street, 13 July 2016. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images

Theresa May becomes prime minister after rivals Johnson and Gove fall.

* * *

October 2016

May lays down her red lines to quash Ukip support, telling the party faithful immigration will be the central basis for departure from the EU.

* * *

November 2016





Daily Mail ‘Enemies of the people’ front page



Daily Mail ‘Enemies of the people’ front page, 4 November 2016. Photograph: Daily Mail

Gina Miller wins a high court ruling that the government needs the consent of parliament to trigger article 50.

In an unprecedented attack on the independent judiciary, the Daily Mail brands the judges “enemies of the people”.

* * *

January 2017

In a Lancaster House speech, May hardens her red lines, aiming for an end to the jurisdiction of the European court of justice and an exit from the single market and immigration control. On the other side of the Irish Sea, hopes of firm commitments on the Irish border are dashed, sowing the seeds for problems to come.

* * *

February 2017

The EU decides the Irish border will be one of the three priority issues to be solved in the legally binding withdrawal agreement. May, still pushing to convince Eurosceptics of her credentials, will be left unprepared for the weight of the EU juggernaut about to arrive in the negotiation room.

* * *

29 March 2017





Michel Barnier, Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk at an EU summit in Brussels on 29 April 2017



Michel Barnier, far left, Jean-Claude Juncker, front left, and Donald Tusk, front right, at an EU summit in Brussels on 29 April 2017. Photograph: Virginia Mayo/AP

May invokes article 50, fatefully starting the clock counting down to a Brexit deadline two years later. In Brussels, the EU negotiation machine is at full throttle, with detailed draft guidelines (including on the troublesome Irish border issue) issued two days later, something UK negotiators will later say gave them a hefty advantage.

* * *

April 2017





Daily Mail front page, 19 April 2017



Daily Mail front page, 19 April 2017. Photograph: Free pic

May calls a snap general election, vowing to “crush the saboteurs”, the Daily Mail claimed. It described her decision as a “stunning move” in which she had called the “bluff of game-playing remoaners (including unelected lords)”.

* * *

June 2017





Theresa May on election night, 9 June 2017



Theresa May on election night, 9 June 2017. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

The election gamble backfires with the shock loss of 13 seats and a hung parliament, forcing May into a deal with the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) in Northern Ireland.

* * *

August 2017

Britain releases its plan for the Irish border. It is dismissed by the EU as “magical thinking”.

* * *

November 2017

The Telegraph brands 15 MPs including Ken Clarke, Dominic Grieve and Anna Soubry “mutineers” after they say they will join forces with Labour to block measures that would enshrine the date of Brexit in law.

* * *

4 December 2017





Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels, 4 December 2017



Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels, 4 December 2017. Photograph: Olivier Hoslet/EPA

The first phase of negotiations ends with the publication of a joint report, but not without last-minute drama. After touching down in Brussels for lunch with Juncker, May gets an unexpected call from the leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, who tells her she will not support the paragraphs on the Irish border.

* * *

8 December 2017

Four days later, May returns on a pre-dawn flight from Northolt to sign off a deal that contains one new paragraph that sows the seeds of two years of future conflict over the Irish border backstop. Ireland’s taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, calls the commitments on the border “bulletproof”.

* * *

10 December 2017

The Brexit secretary, David Davis, goes on TV to downplay the significance of December’s joint report, saying it is just a “statement of intent”.

* * *

February 2018

Just months after signing the joint report that set up the negotiations framework, May declares that no prime minister could agree to borders between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

* * *

6 July 2018





Theresa May gathers the cabinet in her country residence to discuss what will become known as ‘the Chequers plan’, 6 July 2018



Theresa May gathers the cabinet in her country residence to discuss what will become known as ‘the Chequers plan’, 6 July 2018. Photograph: Joel Rouse/AFP/Getty Images

May produces her Chequers plan to keep the whole of the UK in customs alignment with the EU thus obviating a need for Irish border checks. Michel Barnier rules it out soon after.

* * *

9/10 July 2018

Davis and his junior Brexit minister Steve Baker resign, plunging the government into a fresh Brexit crisis. A day later, Boris Johnson resigns as foreign secretary.

* * *

September 2018





Donald Tusk’s post on Instagram: ‘A piece of cake, perhaps? Sorry, no cherries.’ 20 September 2018



Donald Tusk’s post on Instagram: ‘A piece of cake, perhaps? Sorry, no cherries.’ 20 September 2018. Photograph: Instagram

May is humiliated in Strasbourg as she is told her proposals won’t work. The European council president, Donald Tusk, posts on Instagram mocking May for cherrypicking. Her Europe adviser Raoul Ruparel will later describe it as the lowest moment in the negotiations.

* * *

November 2018

Cabinet divisions deepen. The Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, and the pensions secretary, Esther McVey, quit, as do the Brexit minister Suella Braverman and Northern Ireland minister Shailesh Vara.

* * *

23 November 2018

The withdrawal agreement is signed in Brussels as the EU agrees it is the “best possible” Brexit deal, but May returns to domestic political war.

* * *

10/11 December 2018

The first meaningful Commons vote on the Brexit deal is postponed after 164 speeches over three of the five days allotted for the debate. May wins a confidence vote.

* * *

14 December 2018

Tensions rise with the EU as May returns to Brussels to ask for changes in the deal she has just signed.

* * *

14 January 2019

The number of ministers and government aides quitting over Brexit rises to 19 after a whip resigns.

* * *

15 January 2019

May loses the meaningful vote by a landslide 230 votes, the heaviest parliamentary defeat for a prime minister since 1924.

* * *

6 February 2019

Tusk wonders about “a special place in hell” for “those who proposed Brexit without a sketch of a plan”.

* * *

22 February 2019

Mutiny is in the air as a cabinet trio led by Amber Rudd threaten to resign unless May takes no deal off the table. The threat works, with May offering votes on no deal and an extension of article 50. But the decision causes shockwaves that will ripple through to the summer when Johnson makes his move on her job.

* * *

12 March 2019





The Daily Mail on Theresa May’s dash to Brussels for changes to the Irish border backstop, and 24 hours later after a Commons defeat. 12/13 March 2019



The Daily Mail on Theresa May’s dash to Brussels for changes to the Irish border backstop, and 24 hours later after a Commons defeat, 12/13 March 2019. Photograph: Daily Mail

What a difference 24 hours makes. May returns from a mercy dash to Brussels for changes on Irish border backstop. The move backfires after her attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, says legal advice on the Irish border backstop is unchanged. May suffers a second humiliating defeat, this time by 149 votes.

* * *

18 March 2019





The Speaker, John Bercow, addressing MPs in the House of Commons, 18 March 2019



The Speaker, John Bercow, addressing MPs in the House of Commons, 18 March 2019. Photograph: House of Commons/PA

Brexit descends into farce as the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, reaches back to 17th-century parliamentary convention to rule that May cannot bring her deal back for a third vote unless it is substantially changed.

* * *

May 2019


Neil Henderson
(@hendopolis)

MIRROR: Tears in the back seat 2 #tomorrowspaperstoday pic.twitter.com/OYNfOUjr5D


May 22, 2019

May confirms she will step down as prime minister by the end of July, firing the starting gun on the race to succeed her, involving Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt, Matt Hancock, Rory Stewart, Esther McVey and others. May is pictured welling up as she leaves Downing Street.

* * *

July 2019

Johnson is declared leader of the Tory party.

* * *

August 2019

Johnson reveals plans to prorogue parliament, causing deep divisions within his party.

* * *

3 September 2019

Johnson suspends 21 members of his party including Grieve, David Gauke and Nicolas Soames who have sought to block a no-deal Brexit. Ten of them will have the whip restored after a Brexit deal is sealed in October.

* * *

5 September 2019

Johnson’s brother, Jo, resigns from the cabinet, citing unresolved tension between family and the national interest.

* * *

24 September 2019





Lady Hale delivers the supreme court’s ruling on the legality of a suspension of parliament, 24 September 2019.



Lady Hale delivers the supreme court’s ruling on the legality of a suspension of parliament, 24 September 2019. Photograph: EPA

The supreme court rules that Johnson’s advice to the Queen that parliament should be prorogued for five weeks at the height of the Brexit crisis was unlawful. The court’s president, Lady Hale, becomes a hero and her broach an icon for many on the remain side.

* * *

October 2019





Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar at Thornton Manor hotel, 10 October 2019.



Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar at Thornton Manor hotel, 10 October 2019. Photograph: Leo Varadkar/PA

Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar meet in the Wirral for 11th-hour discussions to save Brexit and break the deadlock on the Irish border backstop. Days later the deal is revealed, with a Northern Ireland protocol setting a trade border in the Irish Sea.

* * *

December 2019





Boris Johnson and his partner, Carrie Symonds, watching election results in 10 Downing Street, 13 December 2019



Boris Johnson and his partner, Carrie Symonds, watching election results in 10 Downing Street, 13 December 2019. Photograph: Andrew Parsons/i-Images

Johnson is returned to power with an 80-seat majority on the promise that he will “get Brexit done”.

* * *

31 January 2020





Newspaper front pages on 1 February 2020



Newspaper front pages on 1 February 2020. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

The UK leaves the EU at 11pm.

* * *

March 2020

Trade negotiations begin, hampered by the Covid lockdown. The two sides’ chief negotiators, Barnier for the EU and David Frost for the UK, have symptoms.

* * *

June 2020

The first deadline for a deal passes with no agreement on fisheries. Johnson tells the EU to put a “tiger in the tank” and get a deal by the middle of July. The EU council president, Charles Michel, tells the UK it will not buy a “pig in a poke”.

* * *

October 2020

Another deadline set by Johnson passes.

* * *

November 2020

Several more deadlines pass.

* * *

24 December 2020

Finally, a deal is struck.

* * *

26 December 2020

The 1,246-page document is released, leaving MPs and MEPs little time to read and scrutinise the detail.

* * *

30 December 2020

Johnson tables an 85-page piece of legislation to ratify the deal with less than 48 hours to go before the end of the transition period. Brigid Fowler, a senior researcher at the Hansard Society, describes the process as a “farce” and “an abdication of parliament’s constitutional responsibilities to deliver proper scrutiny of the executive and of the law”.

The deal is signed in the EU and ratified in the House of Commons by 521 votes to 73.





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