The UK is scheduled to leave the EU on 29 March 2019.
The terms of the UK’s withdrawal have been under negotiation since June 2016 following a referendum in which 51.9% voted to leave the EU.
What is Brexit?
Brexit is short for “British exit” – and is the word people use to talk about the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU (European Union).
What is the EU?
The EU is a group of 28 countries which trade with each other and allow anyone to move easily between the countries to live and work (click here if you want to see the full list).
The UK joined the EU, then known as the EEC (European Economic Community), in 1973.
Why is the UK leaving?
A public vote – called a referendum – was held on Thursday 23 June 2016 when voters were asked just one question – whether the UK should leave or remain in the European Union.
The Leave side won (by nearly 52% to 48%) but the exit didn’t happen straight away – it’s going to happen on 29 March 2019.
What has happened so far?
The vote was just the start. Since then, negotiations have been taking place between the UK and the other EU countries.
The discussions have been mainly over the “divorce” deal, which sets out exactly how the UK leaves the EU – not what will happen after it leaves.
This deal is known as the withdrawal agreement.
What has been agreed?
The UK and the EU have come up with this withdrawal agreement about how the UK leaves the EU
It covers some of these key points:
- How much money the UK will have to pay the EU in order to break the partnership – that’s about £39bn
- What will happen to UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU, and equally what will happen to EU citizens living in the UK
- It suggests a way of avoiding the return of a physical border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland
Even if the EU approves the deal, it still has to be passed by the UK Parliament, with many MPs having stated their opposition.
Spain had raised last-minute objections ahead of the summit about how the issue of Gibraltar had been handled in the Brexit talks so far.
But EU leaders secured a compromise with the Spanish prime minister, who said that Europe and the UK “had accepted the conditions set down by Spain” and so would “vote in favour of Brexit”.
Mr Tusk, who represents EU leaders on the world stage, said he recommended “that we approve on Sunday the outcome of the Brexit negotiations” in a letter to members of the European Council.
He added: “No-one has reasons to be happy. But at least at this critical time, the EU 27 has passed the test of unity and solidarity.”
A length of time, called the transition period, has been agreed to allow the UK and EU to make a trade deal and to give businesses the time to adjust.
That means that if the withdrawal agreement gets the green light, there will be no huge changes between 29 March 2019 and 31 December 2020.
Another, much shorter, document has also been drawn up that gives an overview of what the UK and EU’s future relationship will be in the longer term.
This is the political declaration . However, neither side has to stick exactly to what it says – it is a set of ambitions for the future talks.
What happens next?
A vote is expected to happen in December.
The deal also needs to be approved by the European Parliament – one of the organisations which helps make EU laws.
Its 751 members (known as MEPs) come from the EU and are elected in their own countries.
The European Parliament will vote on the deal early next year and the members are expected to follow their leaders by backing the deal.
Will the deal get through UK Parliament?
Well, at the moment it looks like it… might not.
Mrs May doesn’t have enough support from her own Conservative MPs or MPs from other parties.
There are a broad range of complaints, many of of which are about the deal failing to give the UK control back from the EU.
What happens if Parliament rejects the deal?
The default position in this case would be for the UK to leave without a deal.
But MPs would have up to 21 days to suggest a way forward.
So we definitely leave on 29 March 2019?
It is written into law that the UK will be leaving on that date at 11pm UK time.
But if there is no deal, or Parliament rejects the deal, it is impossible to say with any certainty what will happen next.
The deadline of 29 March 2019 could be extended – but all 28 EU members would have to agree.
Other possibilities (explained here in more detail)include the prime minister being allowed to have a second go at getting her deal accepted by Parliament.
Or one other suggestion is a fresh referendum, possibly asking voters whether they approve of the deal, rather than re-running the original vote.
What happens if we leave without a deal?
That would mean there would be no transition period after 29 March 2019, and EU laws would stop applying to the UK immediately (more on that here).
The government has started planning for this potential situation.
It has published a series of guides – which cover everything from pet passports to the impact on electricity supplies.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn says it will be a “national disaster” if the UK leaves without a deal.
But other MPs have played down the warnings of chaos and want a “clean break” from the EU.