FOLLOWING today’s Supreme Court decision, the timetable for EU withdrawal has become a little clearer. But uncertainty still surrounds exactly how the process will unfold. Here are some of the expected milestones along the way.
■ JANUARY — Brexit secretary David Davis has promised to introduce a Bill ‘within days’ of the Supreme Court judgment of January 24, though no precise date has been fixed. It is understood that work is under way on drafting the final text of the legislation, to take into account the judges’ detailed decision.
Leader of the Commons David Lidington may give an indication of the likely timetable for taking the Bill through Parliament in his weekly business statement on Thursday. The following day, Mrs May will become the first foreign leader to meet Donald Trump since his inauguration as US president.
■ FEBRUARY — Debate on the Article 50 Bill is unlikely to start before early February. While in theory, the government could rush the legislation through the Commons and Lords in a matter of days, the process may be dragged out if the Upper House makes any attempt to block the Bill or introduce significant amendments. Downing Street has insisted it will be completed in time for Mrs May to invoke Article 50 by the end of March.
She is due to meet fellow EU leaders in Malta on February 3, but will leave at lunchtime to allow the remaining 27 member states to have their own discussions about their approach to Brexit.
■ MARCH — Mrs May has promised to kick off withdrawal talks under Article 50 of the EU treaties by March 31, but the exact timing remains up in the air.
The scheduled gathering of EU leaders at the European Council in Brussels on March 9-10 could provide Mrs May’s final chance to seek allies before talks begin. Or it could even be an appropriate opportunity for her to notify the council of the UK’s intention to withdraw, as required by Article 50. Remaining EU states will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome on March 25.
The Dutch general election in March could deliver fresh impetus to anti-EU sentiment, with the populist PVV party of Geert Wilders leading the polls.
■ APRIL/MAY — European Commission chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said he expects a delay of several weeks before talks begin, to allow the European Council time to respond to Article 50.
Progress could be disrupted by the French presidential elections in April and May, which are expected to result in a run-off between right-of-centre front-runner Francois Fillon and anti-EU National Front leader Marine Le Pen.
Local elections in the UK in May will give voters a first chance to pass judgment on the deployment of Article 50. The tenure as European Council president of Donald Tusk — who has warned that Brexit will be ‘painful for Britons’ and a loss to the UK and the EU — comes to an end in May, and his home state of Poland has indicated it will not support him getting a second term.
■ SUMMER — As Article 50 talks grind on, the political map of Europe could be further reshaped by parliamentary elections in France in June and Germany in September. Polls suggest German Chancellor Angela Merkel — whose position is expected to be decisive to the outcome of Brexit — will survive a challenge from the anti-EU Alternative für Deutschland party.
Elections are scheduled in nine EU countries including Italy, Hungary, Austria and Sweden.
Mr Barnier has suggested that Article 50 negotiations must be concluded by October 2018 to provide time for the outcome to be approved by the European Council and European Parliament, and potentially by national and regional assemblies in the remaining 27 member states.
Mrs May has promised to give both Houses of Parliament a vote on the final deal, but it is not clear whether this would happen in late 2018 or early 2019. What is also not clear is what would happen if MPs reject the deal, though it is quite possible this would result in a frantic attempt to reopen negotiations in the hope of avoiding crashing out of the EU without an agreement.
Deadline for ‘Brexit by default’ if no deal is reached by two years after the tabling of Article 50 — probably towards the end of March 2019. Without an agreement, EU treaties would cease to apply to the UK overnight and Britons may face a range of tariffs on traded goods and services and restrictions on free movement in Europe.
If a deal has been reached, ministers expect it to include an ‘implementation period’ for both sides to prepare for the new arrangements before actual withdrawal. This may involve different elements of the agreement — on borders, immigration or financial services, for example — being introduced at different times.