From referendum to Brexit green light: Key dates


London (AFP)

From the shock vote to leave the European Union to EU leaders giving the go-ahead for the start of negotiations on a future UK-EU partnership on Friday, here are some of the milestones on the path to Britain leaving the European Union:

- Britons vote for Brexit -

On June 23, 2016, 17.4 million Britons voted to end their country's 43-year-old membership in the EU; overall, the vote was 52 percent in favour and 48 percent against leaving.

The results showed that England and Wales voted to leave, while London, Scotland and Northern Ireland opted to remain.

- Change of government -

On June 24, Conservative prime minister David Cameron, who called the referendum and led the "remain" campaign, announced his resignation.

He said he would stay on until a successor was found, sparking a leadership race that in the end proved remarkably swift.

Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson withdrew at the last minute and Theresa May, Cameron's interior minister for six years, was named premier on July 11.

- Clean break -

On January 17, May gave a speech setting out her Brexit strategy.

She had previously promised to cut EU migration and now acknowledged this would mean Britain would also leave Europe's single market.

She warned she was willing to walk away from the negotiations, saying: "No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain."

- Parliament backs Brexit -

On March 13, Britain's parliament gave final approval to a bill empowering May to trigger Article 50 of the EU treaty, which lays out the process for leaving the EU.

The House of Lords had passed amendments to guarantee the status of European nationals living in Britain and to give parliament a final vote on the final deal.

But these were overturned by the House of Commons and the bill passed unamended.

- Article 50 -

The government triggered Article 50 on March 29 in the form of a letter to EU President Donald Tusk, starting a two-year timetable until withdrawal on March 29, 2019.

"We are on the threshold of the most important negotiation for this country for a generation," Brexit minister David Davis said.

- Lost majority -

In a bid to capitalise on the perceived weakness of the main opposition Labour party and strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations, May calls a snap election for June 8.

Her gamble backfires spectacularly as the Conservatives lose their parliamentary majority. They are forced to strike a deal with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party to be able to govern.

- Florence speech -

In a keynote speech in Florence, Italy, on September 22, May outlined plans for a two-year transition period after Brexit and said Britain would continue its EU budget contributions during that period.

Britain's contributions over the two years after its departure would be about 20 billion euros ($24 billion), an amount judged well short of the figure deemed necessary by EU officials.

The government later agrees to increase the figure to an unspecified amount, reportedly in the region of up to 55 billion euros.

- Irish row -

The issue of British guarantees to keep an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit becomes a key sticking point.

On December 4, May is on the cusp of an agreement but the DUP scuppers the deal at the last minute, saying it was not consulted in time.

DUP leader Arlene Foster called the proposed agreement a "big shock" and said there should be "no regulatory divergence" between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain.

- Scottish nationalism -

After the setback, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says the case for Scotland's independence is getting stronger.

Sturgeon branded the government in London "dissembling, mendacious and totally and utterly incompetent".

"The sooner we are in control over our own future here in Scotland the better, and this week has proved it."

Scotland's independence bid failed in a 2014 referendum and May has said that "now is not the time" for another vote.

- Summit says yes -

EU leaders gave the go-ahead at a Brussels summit on Friday for the next stage of Brexit negotiations to begin, agreeing there had been sufficient progress in discussions on key separation issues.

The EU summit decided that the bloc would start negotiations in January for a post-Brexit transition period for Britain.

But the leaders said talks on a future trade partnership would not start until March as they needed more clarity on what Britain wants to do.