From referendum to Brexit — key moments

A British flag which was washed away by heavy rains the day before lies on the street in London, Britain, June 24, 2016 after Britain voted to leave the European Union in the EU Brexit referendum. — Reuters pic
A British flag which was washed away by heavy rains the day before lies on the street in London, Britain, June 24, 2016 after Britain voted to leave the European Union in the EU Brexit referendum. — Reuters pic

LONDON, March 20 — From the shock vote to leave the European Union to the formal start of the departure process next week, here are some key moments on the path to Brexit:

Britons vote for Brexit

On June 23, 2016, 17.4 million Britons voted to end their 43-year-old membership of the European Union — a proportion of 52 per cent to 48 per cent.

A breakdown of the results shows England and Wales voted to leave, while Scotland and Northern Ireland opted to remain.

Sterling falls

The result took markets by surprise, although they soon recovered. 

The blow to sterling lasted longer — since the referendum, the pound has lost between 15 and 16 per cent of its value against the dollar and the euro.      

Change of government

On June 24, Conservative prime minister David Cameron, who called the referendum and led the campaign to stay in, announced his resignation.

He said he would stay on until a successor was found, sparking a leadership race that in the end proved remarkably swift.

Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson withdrew at the last minute and Theresa May, Cameron’s interior minister for six years, was crowned leader on July 11.

Brexiteers take over

On July 13, May became prime minister, appointing three leading eurosceptics to senior posts in her government and promising to implement Brexit.

Johnson became foreign secretary, Liam Fox became international trade secretary and David Davis was put in charge of a new Brexit ministry.

Brexit means Brexit

On October 2, May said that Britain will trigger Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon treaty, which sets out a two-year process of leaving the bloc, before the end of March 2017.

Court challenge

On November 3, the High Court in London ruled that the government must obtain parliamentary approval to begin the Brexit process.

The Daily Mail tabloid condemned the judges as “Enemies of the People” and May appealed.

On January 24, 2017, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling.

Clean break

On January 17, May gave a major speech setting out her strategy for Brexit.

She had previously promised to cut migration from the EU and now acknowledged this would mean Britain leaving Europe’s single market.

She warned she was willing to walk away from the negotiations with Brussels, saying: “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.”

Trump endorsement

On January 27, May became the first foreign leader to visit newly elected US President Donald Trump at the White House.

He called Britain’s decision to leave the EU a “wonderful thing” and hailed the “special relationship” between the two countries.

Parliament backs Brexit

On March 13, Britain’s parliament gave final approval to a bill empowering May to trigger Article 50.

The House of Lords had passed amendments to guarantee the status of European nationals living in Britain and to give parliament a final vote on the final deal.

But these were overturned by the House of Commons and the bill passed unamended. Receiving formal royal assent from Queen Elizabeth II on March 16.

Scottish nationalism

On March 13, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would press ahead with plans for an independence referendum before Britain leaves the EU.

She said her proposals for Scotland to be allowed to stay in the European single market had been met with “a brick wall of intransigence” from the government.

May responded with an impassioned defence of Britain’s “precious” union and by accusing Sturgeon of “tunnel vision” on independence.

May said “now is not the time” to be talking about another referendum, less than three years after the last one in which Scotland voted to stay in Britain.

Article 50

Today, the government said it would trigger Article 50 on March 29 in the form of a letter to EU President Donald Tusk.

“We are on the threshold of the most important negotiation for this country for a generation,” Brexit minister David Davis said.

The European Commission responded saying: “We are ready to begin negotiations”. — AFP

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