Almost nine months after the political turmoil of June 2016 – in which 33m adults voted in the European Union referendum – Britain is now set to kick-off the formal process of Brexit.
Following the ratification of the Government’s Brexit bill, Theresa May is poised to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – the constitutional basis for any member state leaving the bloc.
Here The Independent looks at what will happen once the mechanism is invoked and how soon divorce proceedings with the EU will begin.
What happens after the Government passes the Article 50 bill?
The Commons and the Lords are expected to pass the Government’s Brexit bill without a single line being added to the legislation in the form of amendments.
But it’s worth remembering the Prime Minister was forced to seek approval from Parliament in order to trigger Article 50. Downing Street fought a lengthy and ultimately unsuccessful battle in the courts against Gina Miller to avoid this.
The final stage – more of a formality – is for the monarch Queen Elizabeth to agree to make the bill and Act of Parliament (law). Once this has been done, the Lord Speaker in the Lords and the Speaker in the Commons will make an announcement in both Houses. Theresa May will then be free to trigger Article 50.
So when will Theresa May trigger it?
May’s self-imposed deadline is the end of March but the Prime Minister could have served notice of Article 50 as early as Tuesday – once the bill has received Royal Assent. But Ms May’s aides sought to play down rife speculation insisting: “We’ve always said *end* of March”.
A spokesman later told journalists at a briefing: “I’ve said END many times but it would seem I didn’t put it in capital letters quite strongly enough”.
There is also the potential for awkward diary clashes in the coming week. Dutch voters head to the polls in their national elections this week and the week after, EU heads of state will come together in Rome to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome – seen as a major stepping-stone in the formation of the EU.
But Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary, did little to clear up a potential date when asked over the weekend. “It will definitely be this week or next week or the week after,” he said.
Then what happens?
Due to a lack of precedence – Britain being the first country to vote to leave the European Union – the actual mechanics of invoking Article 50 are unclear. But as it will be one of the most symbolic moments in Britain’s exit from the bloc – and of Ms May’s premiership – there is no doubt the Prime Minister will want to make a significant deal of the moment.
Downing Street must formally tell Donald Tusk, the European Council President, of Britain’s desire to leave – and what form this takes it yet to be addressed and technically could be done via email.
Just last week Mr Tusk said that when the UK notifies it is the goal of the of the 27 other EU member states to react with draft negotiation guidelines for them all to consider.
“For this I think we need more of less 48 hours. Leaders will then meet, probably in April, to finalise these,” he added.
What will happen to the pound when Article 50 is triggered?
While sterling has endured a bumpy ride since the referendum last year there is no consensus on what Article 50 being triggered means for the pound. Currency experts believe sterling is going to be volatile when negotiations kick off, although many predict it might not be a shock event.
According to a poll of more than 60 banks and research institutions earlier this month, there will be no dramatic sterling moves once Article 50 is triggered. However the currency is also not expected to sustainably recover any time soon.
Most economists predict the pound will trade at around $1.23 against the dollar by the end of March, and drop to $1.21 in the next three to six months.
Some are more pessimistic however, with Deutsche Bank predicting sterling will plunge to $1.14 by the end of June. This would be a new 31-year low for the currency, even including the flash crash that sent the pound plunging more than six per cent in October.
How quickly will the negotiations get going?
Considering it is going to take around four weeks for the negotiating guidelines to be agreed by the other EU states it would be safe to claim David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, will not be face-to-face with negotiators in Brussels the day after May triggers divorce proceedings. The French presidential election will also run from the 23 April until early May.
It is likely the negotiations will begin shortly after those elections, meaning less time to negotiate a settlement.
Does the UK leave the EU immediately?
No – Britain will remain inside the EU for two-years. The provisions of Article 50 allow 24 months for a divorce agreement to be reached.
This can be extended if approval is granted and ratified by all member states. But as soon as Ms May triggers Article 50, the countdown begins. If Britain manages to reach a deal within the two-year timeframe granted by Article 50 then expect the UK to be out of the EU by March 2019.
What will happen to EU nationals living in Britain once Article 50 is triggered?
There will be no immediate change.
While peers and MPs are expected to fail in amending the Government’s Brexit bill to secure the rights of EU citizens, Ms May has repeatedly said she wants an “early agreement” to guarantee their rights.
But their status, which has been in a state of limbo since the referendum, will not be guaranteed until the other EU states safeguard the rights of British citizens living on the continent.
Speaking in the Commons this week, Mr Davis said EU citizens make a vital contribution to society and that the Government will attempt to secure a quick deal.
“The PM has been clear this issue will be one of the top priorities for the negotiations,” he added.
Will Britain have to pay for a divorce settlement?
This is likely to be a contentious issue throughout the negotiating period with a figure demanded by the EU member states to settle Britain’s liabilities for ongoing EU costs.
Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator, has reportedly placed such a bill close to €60bn (£52bn).
However, if Britain was to leave the EU without a settlement, it has been argued the UK would not be legally obliged to contribute towards the budget.
A report from the House of Lords also warned that any calculations on the UK’s so-called divorce bill are “hugely speculative”. But while the amount is uncertain, it seems clear Britain will have a substantial bill to pay.
What are the chances of Britain not getting a deal and crashing out of EU?
During a recent speech Ms May threatened other EU leaders, saying she would be prepared to take Britain out of the EU – crash out – if the UK was offered a bad deal.
“No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she insisted in January. Mr Davis has also ordered Whitehall departments to draw up contingency plans for this scenario.
It does seem unlikely to happen, however, considering the Treasury’s own analysis of falling back on World Trade Organisation (WTO) tariffs.
A leaked document at the weekend warned such a scenario would cause a “major economic shock”. George Osborne, the former Chancellor, has also warned quitting the bloc without a trade deal would be “the biggest act of protectionism in British history”.
What is the Great Repeal Bill?
Ahead of the Conservative conference in autumn 2016 the PM announced her proposal for a “Great Repeal Bill” to end supremacy of EU law in Britain. It will annul the 1972 European Communities Act (ECA), which gives EU law instant effect in the UK and prevent a legal “black hole” existing after Brexit.
The aim for this legislation to is to convert all EU requirements into British law as soon as the UK exits the bloc. It will also eventually enable MPs to vote to remove certain aspects of EU requirements from the British statue book. It is expected to pass through Parliament at the same time as negotiations take place in Brussels.
Is Article 50 irrevocable?
While some Government ministers argue the process is irreversible, the author of Article 50 has a different opinion.
Lord Kerr, who wrote the Article 50 clause, has previously told the BBC “it is not irrevocable”.
“You can change your mind while the process is going on,” he said. “During that period, if a country were to decided actually we don’t want to leave after all, everybody would be very cross about it being a waste of time.
“They might try to exact a political price but legally they couldn’t insist that you leave”.