Brexit trade deal: a timeline of how the two sides got here

Here’s every date you need to know that was crucial to signing the free trade agreement

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Thursday 24 December 2020 14:58 GMT
Prime minister Boris Johnson
Prime minister Boris Johnson

Britain has finally agrred a Brexit trade agreement with the EU, replacing its membership of the single market and customs union.

Here are the key dates along the way that led to this agreement, starting from the referendum four years ago.

23 June 2016

Britain votes to leave the EU in a referendum. The result is 48 per cent remain to 52 per cent leave.

17 January 2017

Theresa May, who replaced David Cameron as prime minister, says the UK will leave the single market once it has left the EU - paving the way for a hard Brexit

29 March 2017

The prime minister triggers Article 50, firing the starting gun on negotiations and setting the countdown for Britain to leave on 29 March 2019

22 September 2017

Theresa May says for the first time that Britain will have a "transition period" once it leaves the EU. This period will be used to negotiate the future relationship once the UK has left

2 February 2018

Under pressure from Tory MPs, May confirms Britain will also be leaving the customs union, and will negotiate a simple free trade agreement with the EU

7 July 2018

While withdrawal negotiations are going on, Theresa May's Cabinet agrees the so-called "Chequers" deal for a Brexit future relationship, under which Britain would have the benefits of the single market without the obligations.

20 September 2018

Theresa May is humiliated at a summit in Salzburg, where member states say her plan will not work and send her away. The future relationship trade issue is parked, for now, and the two parties focus on the withdrawal agreement.

7 June 2019

Theresa May resigns as prime minister after failing to get her withdrawal agreement through the House of Commons. The agreement contained a de facto customs union for the whole UK as part of an agreement to keep Northern Ireland in the single market

24 July 2019

Boris Johnson becomes prime minister, having positioned himself as a harder Brexiteer than Theresa May. He promises to "deliver Brexit" and says he won't rule out a no-deal

17 October 2019

Boris Johnson signs a new Brexit withdrawal agreement with the EU, along with a political declaration pledging to negotiate a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement that eliminates tariffs and quotas

12 December 2019

The prime minister wins the 2019 election with a mandate to vote his Brexit deal through

31 January 2020

Britain leaves the EU, but nothing changes at an economic level because the UK enters a transition period where everything will stay the same until 31 December 2020

3 February 2020

Boris Johnson says in a speech in London that the UK only wants a Canada-style free trade agreement. But he also says he's happy to do a no-deal - which he refers to as an "Australia-style" free trade agreement

2 March 2020

The first round negotiations between the UK and EU to negotiate a free trade agreement takes place in Brussels. Little progress is made, and the two parties are just getting stuck in.

18 March 2020

A second planned round of trade talks is cancelled due to coronavirus lockdowns and travel bans

19 March 2020

Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator tests positive for coronavirus, and has to self-isolate for some time

20 April 2020

Negotiations resume between the two sides, but only via videoconference. Little of substance gets done

16 June 2020

During a phone call, both Boris Johnson and Commission president Ursula von der Leyen formally agree that there will be no extension to the transition period past the end of the year

29 June 2020

Negotiations resume between the two side in person in Brussels. Little progress is made in ensuing rounds.

7 September 2020

Boris Johnson says 15 October is the final deadline for a Brexit agreement, and that if a deal isn't ready by then the UK will quit talks.

15 October 2020

EU leaders meet for a summit in Brussels, where they discuss Brexit. The leaders talk tough and drop a pledge to "intensify" Brexit talks. There is no softening of their position

16 October 2020

Downing Street says there is "no point" in talks with the EU continuing and briefly walks out, without quite committing to a no-deal

21 October 2020

After a week of overtures for Michel Barnier to soothe bruised British egos, talks begin again on an intensified basis, with a widely-briefed mid-November for negotiations to end

4 December 2020

After weeks of back and forth, EU officials start to brief that a deal is "imminent".

9 December 2020

Boris Johnson visits Brussels in a bid to finalise an agreement, but returns home empty-handed

20 December 2020

The European Parliament says it can no longer ratify a deal in time to prevent a no-deal on 31 December. Hopes persist that an agreement could still be ratified 'provisionally’ without MEPs.

23 December 2020

Reports emerge from Brussels that a deal is again “imminent”…

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in