For the UK to leave the EU it had to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which gives the two sides two years to agree the terms of the split. Theresa May triggered this process on 29 March, 2017, meaning the UK is scheduled to leave at 11pm UK time on Friday, 29 March 2019. A European court has ruled that the UK can decide to halt the process and stay in the EU at any time up to the deadline. Alternatively the process can be extended if all 28 EU members agree. But at the moment all sides are focusing on that date as being the key one, and Theresa May has put it into British law.
So is Brexit definitely happening?
As things stand, the UK is due to leave the European Union on 29 March, 2019, regardless of whether there is a deal with the EU or not.
But could Brexit be cancelled?
Yes. Stopping Brexit would require a change in the law in the UK, something neither the government nor the main UK opposition parties want to do at this point. The European Court of Justice ruled on 10 December 2018 that the UK could cancel the Article 50 Brexit process without the permission of the other 27 EU members, and remain a member of the EU on its existing terms, provided the decision followed a “democratic process”, in other words, if Parliament voted for it.
Could Brexit be delayed?
Possibly. The EU might agree to extend Article 50 if its leaders thought it would help smooth the process or if there was a chance the UK could end up staying in, possibly through another referendum, but it would only be by a few months. The UK’s main opposition party, Labour, wants to force a general election and, after winning it, go back to Brussels to negotiate its version of Brexit. That would also require Brexit day being pushed back from 29 March. Labour has kept open the option of pushing for another referendum, which would also need an extension. Some government ministers have also been talking about asking the EU for an extension of a few weeks to get all the necessary legislation through Parliament
Could there be another referendum?
It would have to be put into law by the government, which they have said they will not do. They could be forced into holding another referendum if enough MPs voted for it. Dozens of Labour MPs want another referendum, as do a smaller number of Conservatives and most of the minor parties in the House of Commons. But without the official support of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who could order all Labour MPs to vote for it, those campaigning for another public vote say they do not currently have the numbers to get it through. Mr Corbyn has not ruled out getting behind another referendum but he wants to explore other options, such as toppling the government and forcing a general election, first.
Why do politicians want a deal?
The main point of having a deal between the UK and the EU is to ensure as smooth as possible an exit from the EU for businesses and individuals – and to allow time for the two sides to hammer out a permanent trading relationship.
What is in Theresa May’s deal with the EU?
After months of negotiation, the UK and EU agreed a Brexit deal. It comes in two parts.
A 585-page withdrawal agreement. This is a legally-binding text that sets the terms of the UK’s divorce from the EU. It covers how much money the UK owes the EU – an estimated £39bn – and what happens to UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU and EU citizens living in the UK. It also proposes a method of avoiding the return of a physical Northern Ireland border.H
A 26-page statement on future relations. This is not legally-binding and sketches out the kind of long-term relationship the UK and EU want to have in a range of areas, including trade, defence and security.