Brexit: What is going on?

From the beginning: 

What is happening now: 
MPs are back in Parliament after the Supreme Court ruling against Boris Johnson. Officially, the UK is due to leave the EU on 31 October 2019. However, after the Withdrawal Agreement was voted down, the risk of no deal is rising. MPs and from different parties have voted through a law forcing the government to seek a third Brexit extension. Boris Johnson will have to request a Brexit extension from the EU on 19 October, pushing the deadline back to 31 January 2020. The only exception is if MPs approve a Brexit deal, or vote in favour of leaving with no deal, something that many MPs are determined to avoid. Should the EU want a different deadline date, Mr Johnson will be forced to accept it unless MPs vote to reject it within two days. Any extension offered to the UK has to be agreed to by all members of the EU - so there's no guarantee the UK will be offered one. The Prime Minister requested an order from the Queen to prorogue (suspend) Parliament, to set out what the Government will focus on through a ‘Queen's speech’. This means there was less time for the opposition and rebel MPs to pass motions to further delay Brexit.

Will there be an early general election?

After MPs voted in favour of extending the Brexit deadline, Boris Johnson tried to pass a motion for an early election, twice. However, not enough MPs supported the idea. An act passed in 2017 means that in order to call an early election at least two-thirds of MPs must back the idea. The PM will likely bring another vote to the Commons, but opposition MPs are likely to reject it again. They say won't back it until the law aimed at blocking a no-deal Brexit is implemented. Furthermore, it takes at least 25 working days for an election campaign to take place, so it might be more likely after 31 October when Brexit is currently scheduled to happen.

There could still be a Queen's speech on 14 October in spite of the Supreme Court's ruling. After that, the House of Commons might be asked again by the government to back an early general election. An alternative route for the government would be a short new law specifying the date of an early general election - this would require only a simple majority and not need two-thirds of MPs. There is another much more dramatic way - the prime minister could call a vote of no confidence in his own government.

No Confidence Vote 

At any point the opposition could call a vote of no confidence in the government. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has previously said he would table such a motion. There's also been a suggestion that Boris Johnson could call a no confidence vote in his own government. If more MPs vote for the no-confidence motion than against it, there would then be a 14-day window to see if the current government - or an alternative one with a new prime minister - could win a vote of confidence. If no-one does then a general election would follow.

What is the Government doing to prepare for Brexit?

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I have been party to a number of meetings to help reduce any negative issues around a no-deal scenario. The Government is preparing for an orderly Brexit. Three new cabinet committees have been set up, which will meet more frequently than Mrs May's EU Exit Committee did - including one which will meet daily.

In addition to £4.2bn promised by Theresa May, Boris Johnson has announced an extra £2.1bn specifically to prepare for leaving the EU without a deal – a total of £6.3bn. Amongst other things this includes:

  • 500 extra border force officers
  • Infrastructure around ports
  • Managing traffic disruption in Kent
  • Freight capacity, warehousing and stockpiling of medicines
  • Public communications to help people and businesses

Key concerns addressed by the Government:

The border

Ensuring that goods can continue to flow across the UK border (particularly at Dover and in Northern Ireland)

The UK has committed to continuing to recognise most EU standards for goods to ease their transit into the UK. However, the EU has said it will check imports from the UK as it would imports from any other non-member, putting major burdens on businesses.

HM Revenue and Customs has been communicating with businesses about the new customs processes they will need to follow if there is no deal.  

On 13 March, the UK government published its contingency plan to avoid a hard border (i.e. physical infrastructure) in Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Under the plans, the UK said it would not bring in new checks or controls, or require customs declarations for any goods moving from Ireland to Northern Ireland, in the event of no deal.

Citizens and migration

Protecting the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU

Establishing a new migration regime

The UK has made a unilateral offer to EU citizens. Those in the UK on or before 31 October 2019 can gain settled status as they would if there was a deal – but there will be fewer rights for them in areas such as family reunification.

The Home Office is putting in place a registration scheme for EU citizens who arrive after October 2019, which would in effect see EU citizens able to come to the UK as now for a period. The rights of UK citizens in EU countries are the responsibility of each individual member state.

Apply for settled status here.

Agriculture, fisheries and food

Maintaining food supplies and establishing new UK regulatory regimes

The government has said that it will continue to allow EU-approved agri-goods into the UK after a no-deal exit. But UK exporters would need to get approval before being able to export any product of animal or plant origin to the EU. After that, they will face greater checks than now and will have to pass through a border inspection post.

The government published a "tariff schedule" - a list of the taxes placed on different types of products when they are imported from other countries - in March. It removed most tariffs on imports in the event of a no-deal Brexit. That would mean some goods from outside the EU which currently attract a tariff could be cheaper. And some goods from the EU which are currently imported with 0% tariffs, like beef and dairy, will now carry tariffs, and so could become more expensive. The British Retail Consortium has warned there could be gaps on supermarket shelves if there is disruption at the border. Read more in the guidance food labelling changes after Brexit.

Regardless of whether a deal has been secured, the UK Government has said the UK will leave the EU on 31 October 2019. The Government has committed to retaining current overall level of cash support for farmers until the end of this Parliament, expected in 2022. This commitment covers all funding provided for farm support under the current CAP and applies to the whole UK. CAP payments to UK farmers are currently paid under two pillars. Pillar 1 accounts for the majority of payments and are mainly direct payments to farms. Pillar 2 relates to agricultural support and rural development funding. A new arrangement for farm support long term is being prepared.

Following Brexit, the UK will no longer be part of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). It will become an independent coastal state and be fully responsible for managing fisheries in the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), extending 200 nautical miles (nm) from shore. Government guidance for fishing after Brexit.


Maintaining medical supply chains

The government will continue to accept EU-approved medicines and medical products. The EU has said that UK companies will need to re-register their medical products in the EU to continue to sell them in the Single Market.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has worked out which medicine supplies, vaccines and blood/transplant products may be disrupted by Brexit. Suppliers have been able to stockpile an additional six weeks’ worth of these drugs and products over and above the usual stock levels. In June DHSC began securing freight capacity, warehouse space and fridges in order to stockpile medicines. Where medicines can’t be stockpiled or other logistics are disrupted, express freight services will bring in emergency medical supplies within 24 hours.

If there are any shortages of medicines after EU Exit, your doctor or pharmacist will advise you of the best alternative to treat your condition, as per normal.

This will typically be a different brand of medicine or perhaps lower strength medicines to make up the same dose. On rare occasions, it may mean a different medicine to do the same thing, but prescribers will be supported on how best to do that should it be necessary.

Medicines after Brexit FAQ.


Creating new databases, new infrastructure and ensuring cross-border travel continues uninterrupted

£9 million announced to get ports and local areas ready for Brexit

£5 million will be given to local councils which either have or are near to a major air, land or sea port and £4 million to local resilience forums.

Increased border checks at EU ports will potentially cause traffic delays in Kent, while UK hauliers and coach companies will no longer be able to serve the EU market. The EU has only put in place limited and temporary measures to mitigate road transport disruption, and many of these will expire at the end of 2019.

Well over 160 million passengers travel by air between the UK and the EU each year. Air travel is vital to both the UK and the EU and therefore there is a mutual interest in maintaining well-functioning aviation markets. Currently flights to the EU and many other countries around the world are governed by EU agreements, on 5th September the Government confirmed details of measures that ensure flights and road haulage will continue to run smoothly after the UK leaves the EU on 31 October, whatever the circumstances.

There is potential for disruption in a no-deal scenario as lorries travelling between the UK and the EU will need to go through a customs check. Additionally, certain goods from the UK, such as food and plant products, arriving at EU ports may also require physical checks, under EU single market rules.

‘Operation Brock’ is the name of the plan help reduce disruption from tailbacks due to these extra checks, holding lorries in a queue, whilst allowing other traffic to flow around it. As a back-up lorries could be diverted to the disused Manston airfield, near Ramsgate – which could hold up to 6,000 lorries on the runway at any one time. In the event even more capacity was needed, the M26 could become a temporary lorry park, holding another 2,000 lorries.


Preparing for changes to regulatory regimes and terms of access to the EU market

In the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the UK will no longer be part of the EU’s single market for financial services or the EU’s joint supervisory framework for financial services firms and markets. This will have important consequences for UK and European Economic Area (EEA), firms engaged in cross-border activity between the UK and EEA countries.

The UK government has committed to unilateral actions to minimise financial disruption in a no-deal scenario, including a Temporary Permissions Regime, allowing EU financial services firms to continue operating in the UK for a limited period while seeking UK authorisation.

One such arrangement is the  which will allow EEA firms operating in the UK via a passport to continue to conduct business in the UK for a limited period after Brexit while they go through the process to obtain full authorisation. A Financial Services Contracts Regime has also been put in place to allow EEA firms that do not join the Temporary Permissions Regime in the UK, or are unsuccessful in applying for UK authorisation, to provide a mechanism by which existing contractual obligations can be wound down in an orderly manner.

The EU has committed to a similar temporary permissions regime for some key financial services sectors, for a very short time, on a unilateral basis. For non-financial services like telecoms and broadcasting, firms may need to re-register their services in an EEA country.

Information on financial services after Brexit.

Energy and environment

Creating a new nuclear safeguards regime, replacing other functions currently carried out by EU agencies

The UK will no longer be bound by EU regulations in these areas, making trade more complicated. It will also lose access to EU regulators and systems governing these areas. The Office for Nuclear Regulation will take over some EU functions and is in the process of procuring a new IT system, training new inspectors and has secured funding for its increased role.

The UK has promised a new environmental watchdog to replace EU functions.

Energy and climate after Brexit

In the event of no deal, alternative trading arrangements across gas and electricity interconnectors will need to be developed. The UK government, Ofgem and where appropriate, the Northern Ireland Utility Regulator, are working to ensure new access rules are approved in Great Britain and are providing support to interconnectors engaging with EU Member State authorities. Ofgem published an open letter with steps for market participants in Great Britain to take.

Operators and traders with EU Emissions Trading System Union Registry accounts: The government has advised EU ETS operators of the steps they should take to prepare for Brexit: Meeting climate change requirements if there’s no Brexit deal


Securing an “adequacy” decision to allow data flows to continue

It will not be possible for organisations inside the EU to send personal data to the UK after a no-deal Brexit, until its data protection regime has been found “adequate” by the European Commission. This process takes several months and cannot start until after the UK has left.

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, UK businesses and organisations will still need to be compliant with data protection law. There will be no immediate change to the UK’s data protection standards. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will be brought into UK law and the Information Commissioner would remain the UK’s independent supervisory authority on data protection.

Guidance on using data after Brexit.


Beefing up the Competition and Markets Authority

The Competition and Markets Authority is expanding to handle an increase in the volume and complexity of its cases, as it takes on the responsibilities of the European Commission in monitoring state aid and other competition policy in the UK.


Guidance on the CMA’s role after Brexit.

Crime, justice and the law

Finding replacements for EU tools allowing cooperation in law enforcement

The UK cannot recreate the EU’s existing cooperation mechanisms on its own: it will have to rely on outdated or less secure methods to work with EU counterparts, as the EU’s tools are only for member states or countries with special agreements.

Sajid Javid, then Home Secretary, wrote to his counterparts asking for contingencies to be in place – there has been no move from the EU to agree these.                                                                                     More information.

EU programmes and funds

Replacing EU funding for research, infrastructure and agricultural subsidies, among other areas

Until our departure from the EU, we remain a Member State, with all the rights and obligations that entails. This means that the UK will continue to participate in all EU programmes while we remain a member of the EU.

In the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the UK will leave the EU Budget, meaning UK organisations would no longer receive future funding for projects under EU programmes, such as the European Regional Development Fund and Horizon 2020, without further action.

However, as part of a ‘final set’ of ‘no deal’ contingency measures published on 30 January 2019, the European Commission has also proposed a draft regulation that would allow the UK to continue participating in EU programmes, in 2019 in return for continuing to contribute to the 2019 budget. The government is currently analysing this proposal.

UK organisations, such as charities, businesses and universities, will continue to receive funding over a project’s lifetime if they successfully bid into EU-funded programmes before the end of 2020.

However, the Chancellor announced in August and October 2016 that the government will guarantee EU projects agreed before we leave the EU, to provide more certainty for UK organisations over the course of Brexit.

Many of the payment mechanisms exist already; it will just be the source of funding that changes.

Further information on EU funding post-Brexit.

International agreements

Replacing the UK’s access to the EU’s agreements with countries around the world

The UK is currently party to numerous international agreements with third countries as a member of the EU. The government has ‘rolled over’ trade agreements with a number of countries, including Switzerland, Chile and Israel, as well as agreements on aviation services with a number of key countries, including the US, Canada and Brazil, and nuclear agreements with partners including Australia and Canada.

The Government said in January 2018 that it had engaged with 70 countries covered by over 40 EU international trade agreements and had received a positive reaction in relation to its objective of ensuring continuity in these trading relationships.

The Government released a technical notice on existing trade agreements if there is no deal in October 2018. It explained that should replacement agreements not be in place by exit date then World Trade Organization (WTO) Most Favoured Nation (MFN) terms would apply, whereby the same tariff rates would need to be charged to all WTO members in the absence of a free trade agreement.

For more information on international agreements after Brexit.

Trade agreements that have been signed

Agreements with the following countries and trading blocs will take effect when the UK leaves the EU:

Trade agreements still in discussion