- Title: The United Kingdom's tortuous Brexit journey: timeline part 1 of 3
- Date: 19th December 2019
- Summary: Britain's parliament rejected Prime Minister Theresa May's deal to quit the European Union for a second time on March 12, deepening the country's worst political crisis for generations, 17 days before the planned departure date. Lawmakers voted against May's amended Brexit deal by 391 to 242 as her last-minute talks with EU chiefs on March 11 to assuage her critics' concerns ultimately proved fruitless. STRASBOURG, FRANCE (FILE - MARCH 11, 2019) (REUTERS) BRITISH PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY ARRIVING AND BEING GREETED BY EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER, WHERE MAY MADE A LAST-MINUTE TRIP TO MEET WITH EU CHIEFS AND CLINCHED TWEAKS TO HER BREXIT DEAL ON THE EVE OF THE SECOND MEANINGFUL VOTE
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- Keywords: 29 March 2019 Brexit Brexit timeline Britain leaving the EU British Prime Minister Theresa May EU EU referendum European Union
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- Topics: European Union,Government/Politics,Editors' Choice
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- Story Text: EDITORS PLEASE NOTE: EDIT CONTAINS PROFANITY
EDITORS PLEASE NOTE: EDIT CONTAINS WHITE FLASHES TO SEPARATE SOUNDBITES
The United Kingdom voted in 2016 to leave the European Union, but it is still uncertain when or if that will happen.
Below is a timeline of its tortuous journey in and out of the European project:
WHY DID BRITAIN SHUN THE ORIGINAL BLOC?
London declined to join the European Union's forerunner, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), when it was founded in 1952.
Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee told parliament in 1950 his party was "not prepared to accept the principle that the most vital economic forces of this country should be handed over to an authority that is utterly undemocratic and is responsible to nobody".
There was also concern it might prejudice close ties with the United States and the Commonwealth group of mainly former territories. Britain also stayed out of the European Economic Community (EEC) when it was formed from the ECSC in 1957.
Conservative Prime Minister Harold MacMillan reversed this position in 1961 and sought membership of the EEC.
With Europe divided by the Cold War, he said the promotion of European unity and stability through the bloc was "so essential a factor in the struggle for freedom and progress throughout the world".
But France led resistance to Britain's membership in the 1960s, with Charles de Gaulle blocking Britain's accession in 1961 and 1967, accusing the British of "deep-seated hostility" to the European project.
WHEN DID BRITAIN FINALLY JOIN?
Britain joined the EEC in 1973 after France dropped its objection's following de Gaulle's resignation in 1969.
As he signed the treaty taking Britain into the common market, Conservative Prime Minister Ted Heath said "imagination will be required" to develop its institutions while respecting the individuality of states.
1975 - BRITAIN'S FIRST EUROPEAN REFERENDUM
In 1975, new Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson, faced with splits among his ministers on Europe, decided to hold an "in-out" referendum on membership. He backed staying in after saying a renegotiation on terms of membership had "substantially though not completely" achieved his objectives.
Britons voted 67 percent to 33 percent to stay in the European Union in 1975.
WHY DID THE 1975 VOTE NOT SETTLE THE ISSUE?
Although new Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher backed the campaign to stay in the bloc in 1975, her party become increasingly divided by the issue and her own relationship with European leaders was tense at times.
She attacked the idea of a single currency and too much power being centralised in EU institutions, telling the then-Commission President Jacques Delors "no, no, no" over his plans for more European integration in 1990.
However, days later she was challenged for the leadership of the party by pro-European Michael Heseltine, and was forced from office when she failed to beat him outright in November 1990.
Her successor, John Major, was forced to pull sterling out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) on so-called "Black Wednesday" - Sept. 16, 1992. The ERM had been intended to reduce exchange rate fluctuations ahead of monetary union.
Major was also beset by divisions over Europe, describing three eurosceptic cabinet ministers as "bastards" in 1993 after narrowly surviving a confidence vote over the EU Maastricht Treaty.
After Labour's Tony Blair won the 1997 election, his finance minister, Gordon Brown, effectively ruled out euro entry by setting out five economic tests that had been worked out with his top aide, Ed Balls, in a New York taxi.
CAMERON'S GAMBLE BACKFIRES
The tenure of the next Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, was also, ultimately, defined by Europe.
The Conservatives returned to office in 2010 after 13 years of Labour government.
In a bid to shore up support in the face of a split party and the small but staunchly eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP), Cameron promised an "in-out" referendum on a renegotiated deal on membership in the party's 2015 election manifesto.
Cameron said he was satisfied that negotiations with the EU gave Britain enough for him to back a "remain" vote.
But though Britain's biggest parties backed the campaign to stay in, the people voted to leave by 52 to 48 percent on June 23, 2016. Cameron resigned the morning after the vote and was replaced by Theresa May.
May triggered Article 50, the formal EU divorce notice, in March 2017, setting the exit date of March 29, 2019 for Britain to leave - with or without a deal.
In a bid to gain backing for her Brexit plan, she called a snap election for June 2017. The gamble backfired. She lost her parliamentary majority and formed a minority government, supported by the eurosceptic Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
On Nov. 13, she reached agreement on the terms of Britain's departure from the bloc with EU leaders.
Lawmakers voted 432-202 to reject the deal on Jan. 15 in the biggest parliamentary defeat for a government in modern British history.
THE FINAL COUNTDOWN?
May dashed to Strasbourg on March 11 and in a late night news conference announced she had secured legally binding reassurances on the so-called Northern Irish border backstop, an insurance policy aimed at avoiding post-Brexit controls on the United Kingdom's border with EU-member Ireland.
Many Brexiteers and the DUP feared the backstop would trap the United Kingdom in the EU's orbit, and sought guarantees it would not.
But the new documents were not enough to sway the most eurosceptic wing of her party and the DUP, and the deal was voted down again on March 12.
In the following days lawmakers voted to avoid a "no-deal" Brexit and to ask for a delay to Brexit.
Britain was supposed to leave at 2300 GMT on March 29, 2019.
At a March 21-22 summit, May asked the EU to allow Britain to delay its departure date by three months to June 30.
The outcome, with which May declared herself satisfied, was that Britain will leave the EU on May 22 if parliament rallies behind her deal. If it does not, Britain would have had until April 12 to offer a new plan or choose to quit without a treaty.
On March 25, British lawmakers voted to wrest control of Brexit from May for a day in a bid to find a way through the European Union divorce impasse that a majority in parliament could support.
The amendment put forward by Oliver Letwin, a lawmaker from May's Conservatives, changed the rules of parliament on March 27 in order to provide time for so-called indicative votes on Brexit options.
May told a meeting of Conservative lawmakers on March 27 she would quit if her twice-defeated EU divorce deal passes in the third attempt, making a last-ditch bid to persuade rebels in her party to back her.
Also on March 27, lawmakers failed to find a majority on a way forward to break the impasse. MPs voted on eight Brexit options ranging from leaving abruptly with no deal to revoking the divorce or holding a new referendum. None of the proposals produced a majority, but the narrowest defeat, by just eight votes, was for a proposal to keep Britain in a permanent customs union with the EU.
With time running out to get an exit deal ratified by parliament, Britain had to accept on May 7 that it will have to take part in European Parliament elections on May 23.
In a last roll of the dice on May 21, May promised a "new deal" on Brexit. It was immediately rejected by large numbers of Conservative lawmakers and the opposition Labour Party.
A few days later on May 24 May announced she would quit, her voice breaking with emotion during a Downing Street address to the nation. She described herself as "the second female prime minister, but certainly not the last".
On May 27 the results of the European elections across England and Wales showed Nigel Farage's Brexit Party taking the lion's share of the vote with voters rejecting Conservatives and the main opposition Labour Party.
The race to replace May as the country's prime minister began in earnest on June 7 when she stood down as the leader of the Conservative party, but remained as prime minister until a successor was chosen.
On June 20 the Conservative party leadership contest was whittled down to two after five rounds of voting by Conservative MPs. Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, once an opponent of leaving the European Union, campaigned on a promised to exit the EU with Boris declaring it must be done by October 31 with or without a deal, "do or die."
JOHNSON TAKES CONTROL
On July 23 Johnson, the ebullient Brexiteer, won the leadership of the Conservative Party and replaced Theresa May as the prime minister on July 24.
Johnson, the face of the 2016 Brexit referendum, won 92,153 votes by members of the Conservative Party. His rival, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, won 46,656 votes.
His victory catapulted the United Kingdom towards a Brexit showdown with the EU and towards a constitutional crisis at home, as British lawmakers have vowed to bring down any government that tries to leave the bloc without a divorce deal.
On July 24 outgoing Prime Minister May gave her final speech outside Downing Street before heading to Buckingham Palace to formally step down before Johnson took office as British Prime Minister after an audience with the Queen.
Johnson then made his first speech as prime minister on the steps of Number 10. Downing Street telling the country to "never mind the backstop, the buck stops here."
On July 25 Johnson made his first speech to Parliament as prime minister and promised to make the United Kingdom the "greatest place on earth" by leaving the European Union by October 31 and that the Irish border backstop would have to be struck out of the Brexit divorce agreement if there was to be an orderly exit with a deal.
"Our mission is to deliver Brexit on the 31st of October for the purpose of uniting and re-energising our great United Kingdom and making this country the greatest place on earth," Johnson said.
Johnson then told parliament that the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Theresa May were "unacceptable" an the Irish backstop, an insurance policy designed to prevent the return of a hard border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, must be abolished.
In August, Johnson visited German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, saying that he was confident of agreeing a deal. Macron told Johnson there was not enough time to negotiate a new deal by Britain's scheduled departure date.
THE PROGOGATION THAT WASN'T
Johnson's government announced on August 28 that it would seek to suspend, or prorogue, Parliament around a week after lawmakers returned from summer recess on September 3. The decision was heavily criticised by opposition MPs and a significant number of senior figures within Johnson's own Conservative Party.
The prorogation period proposed to keep Parliament closed until October 14 - just over two weeks before the Brexit deadline. Opposition lawmakers including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused the government of avoiding scrutiny over its Brexit negotiations, and demanded to be informed of alternative proposals to the Irish backstop. EU leaders publicly said they had received no such proposals from Johnson's government.
The opposition parties and a number of Conservative rebels swiftly drafted a bill to legally prevent the government from leaving the EU without a deal. The bill would also force Johnson to request a three-month extension to the exit deadline if no agreement was in place by October 19.
As lawmakers debated the issue on September 3, prominent government member Jacob Rees-Mogg was heavily criticised for his laid-back posture on the benches by lawmakers including Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, who described Rees-Mogg's attitude as "contemptuous."
Johnson experienced an incendiary first round of prime minister's questions on September 4, in which he took aim at Corbyn for not backing government overtures for an early general election and received criticism himself from opposition MPs.
Later that day, the legislation to block a no-deal Brexit was voted through the House of Commons by a margin of 329 votes to 300. Twenty-one Conservative MPs who supported the bill in the Commons subsequently had the party whip removed and were told they would be deselected at the next election. Those losing the whip included former finance ministers Ken Clarke and Philip Hammond, as well as Nicholas Soames, the grandson of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Following the defeat, Johnson said he would could not govern without the support of Parliament and tabled a motion to call an early election for mid-October. Opposition parties continued to argue that while they wanted an election, they would not do so before no-deal had been prevented. Lawmakers from Labour and the centrist Liberal Democrats largely abstained from the vote, denying the government the two-thirds majority required under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.
Johnson travelled to Yorkshire the next day to speak at a police recruitment centre in Wakefield, where he told reporters he would rather be "dead in a ditch" than ask the EU for another extension to Brexit - something he would be legally obliged to do once the legislation passed by Parliament achieved Royal Assent.
The PM then met with Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar in Dublin on September 9, where he was told that Ireland would not condone a deal without an Irish border backstop or a suitable alternative. The government also tabled another motion to call an early election, which was again not given support by opposition lawmakers, meaning an election would not be held until after the current Brexit deadline of October 31. Johnson was now legally obliged to either negotiate a new deal or request Brussels for an extension by that date.
With parliamentary business carrying on well into the early hours of September 10, the government subsequently carried out the prorogation of Parliament announced in August, with lawmakers across the opposition benches displaying their displeasure at the decision. House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, who had earlier told lawmakers he would stand down on the day of the Brexit deadline, October 31, described the five-week suspension as "not normal" and an example of "executive fiat."
The Supreme Court ruled on September 24 in a humiliating rebuke to him Johnson's decision to shut down the British parliament for five weeks in the run-up to Brexit was unlawful.
The unanimous decision by the court's 11 presiding judges thrusts Britain's exit from the European Union further into turmoil as it undermines Johnson and gives legislators more scope to oppose his Brexit plans.
Britain clinched a Brexit deal with the European Union on October 17, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, just a few hours before the start of a summit of the bloc's leaders in Brussels.
Separately, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said "we have a great new Brexit deal".
Juncker said in a letter that he would recommend that the leaders of the other 27 member states approve the deal, adding it was "high time" to complete the divorce process and move on as swiftly as possible to negotiations of the EU's future partnership with Britain.
However, the Northern Irish party Johnson needs to help ratify any agreement has refused to support the deal that was hammered out over weeks of negotiations.
British lawmakers voted for a proposal on October 19 to withhold support for Johnson's Brexit deal until formal ratification legislation has passed, a step that obliged him to ask the European Union for a Brexit delay.
On October 24, Johnson said that he was asking parliament to approve a national election to take place on December 12 as part of his efforts to ensure Britain leaves the European Union.
Johnson said in a letter to opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn he would give parliament more time to approve his Brexit deal by November 6 but lawmakers must on Monday (October 28) back a December election, Johnson's third attempt to try to force a snap vote.
(Production: Will Russell, Gerry Mey, Alex Fraser, Emily Roe, Helena Williams, Jonathan Shenfield, Lucy Marks)
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