Brexit Begins: What you need to know about Article 50


Prime Minister Theresa May has invoked Article 50, beginning the process of Britain leaving the European Union. But what exactly is Article 50, when will Britain leave, and who will be the key players over the next two years. Here’s your guide to the beginning of Brexit.


In the Lisbon Treaty, Article 50 says that any member state can leave the European Union, and that any country that chooses to do this must notify the European Council of its intention to do so. The clause also says that the withdrawing country will leave two years after invoking Article 50.


Today, Sir Tim Barrow, the UK’s Permanent Representative to the European Union, handed a letter to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, signalling Britain’s intention to invoke Article 50 to leave the EU. The conversation between the two, although only one minute long, will be monumental in the future of the UK and the EU.


Negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union are expected to start in May or June, which will determine the future of Britain’s relationship with the EU. Talks are expected to end in autumn of this year, but will be followed by votes on the deal reached by MPs in Westminster, the European Council in Brussels and the European Parliament in Strasbourg,


Unless Britain calls for an extension to the negotiations, which the other 27 member states would have to agree to, the United Kingdom will leave the EU two years after Article 50 is invoked – March 29th 2019.


Issues that are likely to be discussed will include participation in cross-border agencies, including the European Arrest Warrant, co-operation on foreign policy and access to UK citizens to the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). An ‘exit bill’, the cost of leaving the EU, will also be part of the discussions. In addition, representatives from the UK want to get an ‘early agreement’ to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and vice versa and also want to negotiate a trade deal with the now 27-member organisation. However, EU representatives have said that a withdrawal agreement and trade deal should be done separately, and have also refused to speculate on the specific areas that will be discussed when negotiations begin.


If no deal is reached in the two year negotiating period, relations between the UK and the EU could be governed by rules from the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Terms under these rules are less favourable than those within the single market, meaning that trading with the EU would be more difficult, especially as tariffs and customs checks could be introduced. This would lead to great costs to British businesses trying to sell products to other EU countries.



For the European Union, the chief negotiator is Michel Barnier. Barnier, a French politician for the centre-right Republican party, has served in various French cabinet positions, including Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister of State for European Affairs. In the European Commission, he served as the Commissioner for Internal Market and Services between 2010-14. He has indicated a tough stance towards negotiations, especially in guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living in the UK.


He will face off against the UK’s chief negotiator and Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis. Davis has been a eurosceptic for much, if not all, of his political career, but did serve as John Major’s Europe minister, where he negotiated agreements with Brussels that he now has to unpick. He also ran for the Conservative Party leadership in 2005 and was a front-runner in the race to replace Michael Howard; he eventually lost out to David Cameron. This is the first time Davis has been in charge of a government department.



  • 29 March – Britain invokes Article 50
  • 30 March – Great Repeal Bill to be published
  • 31 March – Donald Tusk to publish negotiation guidelines
  • 29 April – EU summit of 27 remaining EU states
  • Spring – Great Repeal Bill announced to Parliament
  • May/June – UK/EU negotiations to begin
  • December – Initial discussions expected to conclude


  • Early 2018 – Great Repeal Bill to have gained Royal Assent
  • 30 September – Brexit negotiator Barnier aims to conclude negotiations by this point


  • (by) Early 2019 – Houses of Parliament, European Commission and European Council to vote on final deal, if one is reached
  • 29 March – Two year negotiation period ends and Britain leaves the European Union (with or without a deal)

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