How was Article 50 triggered and what happens now?

Laura Hughes
The moment Britain's ambassador to the EU Tim Barrow delivers the formal notice of the UK's intention to leave the bloc under Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty. - AFP

Prime Minister Theresa May has triggered Article 50 marking the start of two years of negotiations to thrash out a deal for Britain's exit from the European Union (EU).

It means that the UK will quit the EU by March 29 2019 at the latest, ahead of the European Parliament elections in May of that year.

How was Article 50 triggered?

Mrs May signed the most important document of her career - informing the European Council of Britain's intention to leave the European Union - in Downing Street on Tuesday, March 28 2017.

After she posed for a picture signing it, the letter was taken to Belgium overnight by a civil servant accompanied by a guard, to ensure there could be no last-minute hitches. 

It was handed over to European Commission president Donald Tusk in Brussels by Britain’s most senior diplomat in Brussels, Sir Tim Barrow the following day.

How many days before Britain leaves the EU?

Details of exactly how and where he met Mr Tusk were kept tightly under wraps because of fears that Remainers might try to intercept the letter in a final act of defiance.

In her six page letter, Mrs May said she hoped for a “deep and special partnership” between the EU and Britain. 

She said the Government would like an early agreement on a transitional period and accepted there will be “consequences” from Brexit.

Mrs May warned the EU that negotiations on the terms of Britain's "divorce bill" must take place alongside talks on a new trade deal the remaining member states.

Article 50 gallery puff

What happens now Article 50 has been triggered?

Article 50 of the EU Treaties sets out a clear two-year deadline for completion of the withdrawal negotiations. But what happens within that period is far less clear.

Here are some of the milestones expected along the way to Britain's final withdrawal:


March 30: A white paper will be produced on the Great Repeal Bill - the legislation that will turn more than 40 years of EU regulations into domestic laws.

FAQ | The Great Repeal Bill

April 29:An extraordinary European Council summit of the remaining 27 states will be held to agree a mandate for chief negotiator Michel Barnier and clear the way for talks to begin in earnest in May. Over this period, the European Parliament will also debate and vote on its "red lines" for any deal.

May 4: Local government elections in England, Wales and Scotland will give voters a first opportunity to pass judgment on Mrs May's handling of Brexit negotiations.

EU leaders will be watching to see how well Front National (FN) and presidential candidate Marine Le Pen does in the French elections. Credit: AFP

May 7:A new president will be elected in France. Victory for the National Front's Marine le Pen could throw the European side into disarray by raising the prospect that France too will quit the EU. A win for Emmanuel Macron or Francois Fillon may also affect the EU27's negotiating stance.

Summer: Intensive negotiations are expected to continue through the summer, with early discussions on the status of EU citizens living in the UK and British nationals resident on the continent. Arrangements may also be thrashed out for a "transitional deal" to cover the period between Brexit and the conclusion of trade talks, if these are not completed within the two-year deadline.

German federal elections could see Angela Merkel replaced as the German chancellor. 

September 24:German federal elections could see Angela Merkel replaced as Chancellor by former European Parliament president and staunch federalist Martin Schulz, who once called for the creation of a "genuine European Government".

Ongoing: Successive "rounds" of talks can be expected to take place through the autumn and winter and into 2018, as teams of negotiators from each side gather around the table for several days at a time before retiring to their capitals to prepare for the next bout.


May: English local government elections.

October: This is the target date Mr Barnier has set for concluding withdrawal negotiations, in order to allow time for them to be ratified before the end of the two-year Article 50 deadline.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she wants a second referendum on Scottish independence after the terms of the deal are known and before Brexit takes effect in the spring of 2019.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wants a second referendum on Scottish independence. 

Winter 2018/19:Once a deal is concluded between the Commission and the UK, it will go back to the member states of the EU.

The European Court of Justice could be asked to rule on whether the deal requires approval by each state. If so, it could have to be ratified by as many as 38 national and regional parliaments across the European Union, with any of them effectively holding a veto.

Mrs May has promised a parliamentary vote on the withdrawal deal, but is offering MPs only the option to "take it or leave it".

Under her plans, rejection of the deal would mean the UK crashing out of the EU without agreement and being forced to trade under disadvantageous World Trade Organisation tariffs.

The PM has promised that the Westminster vote will take place before the European Parliament debates and votes on the deal, effectively giving MEPs the final say on whether it will go ahead.


March 29:Two years after the invocation of Article 50, the UK ceases to be a member of the EU and is no longer subject to its treaties, whether or not a withdrawal agreement has been reached.

May: European Parliament elections will take place without the UK.


May 7: Scheduled date for the first UK general election following Brexit.


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