2 years on from the Brexit referendum - a timeline of key events

Wed 20 Jun 2018
Posted by: William Barns-Graham

brexit timeline

Saturday 23 June 2018 marks the 2-year anniversary of the EU membership referendum in which 52% of the voting public suggested to parliament that the UK leave the EU.

That suggestion was then taken on by parliament with Article 50 triggered at the end of March 2017.

A lot has changed in British politics over the last two years, including:

  • David Cameron’s resignation and Theresa May becoming the new prime minister
  • tense negotiations between the UK government and EU
  • the slump of pound sterling
  • the shock general election result in 2017 and resultant hung parliament
  • agreement in the first phase of the negotiations in December 2017
  • unresolved debate regarding the customs union and the Irish border
  • continuing uncertainty about the 'meaningful vote' amendment to the withdrawal bill

Relive the historic 2 years of ‘Brexit meaning Brexit’ – and then meaning plenty of other things – in our 2-year timeline of the key events that have taken place since last year’s referendum result.

Timeline of the key developments since the referendum vote

June 23, 2016: The UK votes in a referendum on its membership of the European Union.

June 24, 2016: A seismic moment in British history as it is announced that the UK has voted to leave the EU by 52 – 48 per cent. A set of significant political landmarks follows. David Cameron announces that he will resign as prime minister, the pound takes a gargantuan plunge to a three-decade low, and the Bank of England announces that it is ready to support the financial system. The country is in shock, the political landscape completely altered, and everyone starts trying to figure out what this all means.

June 30, 2016: The Conservative leadership contest becomes prickly. Theresa May announces her candidacy saying, “Brexit means Brexit”; Boris Johnson – a major figure in the Leave campaign – says he will not be standing. Andrea Leadsom, Michael Gove, and Stephen Crabb also stand as candidates, but over the coming days, support for May becomes unassailable. 

July 13, 2016: Theresa May becomes UK Prime Minister naming Boris Johnson as foreign secretary, Philip Hammond as chancellor of the exchequer, Liam Fox as trade secretary, and David Davis as Brexit secretary. In so doing, UKTI becomes the Department for International Trade and the new Department for Exiting the EU is created.

July 27, 2016: Michael Barnier is announced as the person to lead the EU’s Brexit negotiations while May says ‘on the shelf’ models are off the table.

Oct. 7, 2016: A ‘flash crash’ sees the pound once again plunge suddenly – this time by more than 6 per cent – to a 31 year low.

Oct. 12, 2016: Public outrage as supermarket prices increase for household favourites including Marmite. Tesco announce they will no longer be selling certain Unilever products as a result.

Nov. 3, 2016: The High Court rules that the Brexit process can only commence following a Parliamentary vote, following a court case initiated by lawyer and businesswoman Gina Miller. The pro-Brexit British tabloids react in fury, brandishing the judges ‘enemies of the people’.

Dec. 7, 2016: The House of Commons votes in favour of the government’s plan to trigger Brexit by the end of March 2017 by 448 to 75.

Jan. 17, 2017: Theresa May lays out some of her key negotiating stances for Brexit during a speech at Lancaster House, including the likelihood that the UK will leave the single market to seek a new trading relationship with the EU.

Jan. 24, 2017: The Supreme Court rules that the government must seek parliamentary consent before triggering Article 50.

Feb. 1, 2017: The House of Commons approves the government’s bill for the right to trigger Article 50 by 498 to 114 but with amendments to be made.

Mar. 1, 2017: The House of Lords amends the bill to guarantee rights of EU citizens in the UK.

Mar. 7, 2017: Another amendment is made to allow for a ‘meaningful vote’ on the final deal.

Mar. 29, 2017: At around 1:20pm in Brussels, a letter is handed to the EU commission declaring that Article 50 has been triggered.

Apr. 19, 2017: MPs vote to dissolve Parliament ahead of an election.

June 9, 2017: The UK election results in a hung parliament following an impressive showing from the Labour party and the dismantling of the previous election’s UKIP vote. It emerges that Theresa May is in talks with the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland over talk to form a significantly weakened government. The Pound again slumps as a result of the talks.

June 19, 2017: Michael Barnier and David Davis begin negotiations on the UK’s exit from the EU.

Aug. 16, 2017: The British government disclose several papers signalling Britain’s ambitions for trade and customs agreements post Brexit. A week later, Theresa May announces that Britain will leave the EU Court of Justice’s direct jurisdiction when the transition period planned for after March 2019 ends. One of the papers calls for no additional restrictions for goods already on the market in the UK and EU.

Sep. 22, 2017: Theresa May makes her third major speech on Brexit – ‘The Florence Speech’ – which delivers much needed clarity in key areas of the first phase of the negotiations including citizens’ rights and Britain’s exit bill. However, no clarity is provided on the Irish border.

Oct. 19, 2017: Theresa May issues a direct message to approximately three million EU citizens in Britain saying that the British government will make it as easy as possible for them to stay in the UK after Brexit. A day later, Donald Tusk describes the reports of a deadlock in Brexit talks as ‘exaggerated’.

Nov. 9-10, 2017: Michael Barnier sets the UK a deadline of two weeks to specify a divorce bill that the UK will pay upon leaving the EU, in order for the UK to start trade negotiations with the bloc. David Davis rejects the EU proposal for Northern Ireland to remain in the EU Customs Union, creating a customs border on the Irish border.

Dec. 13, 2017: The government is forced by the Opposition and rebel Tory MPs to guarantee a vote on the final Brexit deal once it is struck with Brussels.

Dec. 15, 2017: The EU agrees to move on to the second phase of the negotiations following an agreement on the Brexit ‘divorce bill’, EU citizens’ rights, and the Irish border. The Irish border agreement is dependent on trade and customs arrangements to be agreed at a later point.

Jan. 29, 2018: The European Council adopts and publishes negotiating directives for the second phase.

Mar. 2, 2018: Theresa May makes another key Brexit speech at the Mansion House in London, focusing on five tests that the Brexit trade deal must respect, including respecting the result of the referendum, being an agreement that ‘endures’, protecting British jobs and security, being consistent with being an open and outward-looking European democracy, and strengthening the Union.

Mar. 19, 2018: The UK and EU agree on a ‘large part’ of the process for the ‘orderly withdrawal’, with a deal on what the UK calls the ‘implementation period’ proving a ‘decisive step’. This implementation period is linked to what many commentators had called a ‘transition period’ following the UK’s EU exit. The agreement covers some key issues including fishing policy but still it leaves the issue of the Irish border as open-ended and dependent on future trade agreements.

May 17, 2018: A ‘backstop’ customs proposal for preventing a hard border in Ireland is agreed by the cabinet. The ‘backstop’ would see the UK match EU tariffs after 2020. ‘Hard Brexiteers’ fear this could result in the UK remaining in the customs union for longer than necessary.

June 12, 2018: PM May narrowly avoids defeat on amendments to the parliamentary withdrawal bill, after Tory rebels accept government concessions on a ‘meaningful vote’ on issues to be resolved the following week in the House of Lords. In the following days, the Tory rebels voice concern that the meaningful vote amendment had been watered down too much, while the SNP stage a walkout at PMQs over concerns at the lack of time given to devolution-related issues in the bill.

June 19, 2018: The House of Lords defeats the government, again voting in favour of the amendment for a ‘meaningful vote’, returning the issue again to the House of Commons.

June 21, 2018: The government wins on the vote against the 'meaningful vote' amendment following further concessions to the Tory rebels.