Brexit: What happens now after the UK officially leaves the EU

More than three-and-a-half years after the country voted to leave the European Union, the UK wakes up to a new era on Saturday morning.

That historic decision back in June 2016 has divided the nation and will be greeted by a mixture of joy, sadness and relief – but also uncertainty.

What does our departure actually mean for our economy, our laws and our place on the world stage?

How – and when – will the biggest constitutional change in half a century impact on the lives of you and your loved ones?

Here we take a look at what Brexit means for you:

What has changed?

Not much. Although this is the legal moment the UK becomes the first nation ever to leave the EU, in practical terms you’ll notice very little difference.

That’s because we are in a ‘transition period’ until the end of the year during which the UK will continue to follow EU rules – although we won’t have any say in them as British MEPs have lost their jobs and the UK won’t attend any more summits. It will also keep paying into the EU’s budget.

Blue passports stripped of EU branding will start being issued to all new applicants, instead of the old burgundy ones, and 3m special 50p coins will enter circulation.

What happens next?

The UK can now formally begin trade talks with other countries, like the US and Australia, so they are ready to kick in at the end of the year.

The Government will be hoping for some quick wins so it can show it is making a success of Brexit.

A new team within No 10, headed by the PM’s chief Europe adviser David Frost, will lead the UK’s trade talks with the EU, our biggest trading partner.

They’re only expected to get going properly in March after the EU agrees its negotiating “mandate” – and many believe they won’t be finished on time.

Can the transition period be extended?

The Brexit deal says the transition period can go on for another two years – until the end of 2023. But the government passed a law banning any extension to show how serious it is about leaving.

But it can still change its mind right up to the end of June. Beyond that, the 31 December becomes a hard deadline.

We will continue to follow EU rules for the rest of the year and start paying our £39bn ‘divorce bill’ to the EU which stretch for several years.

Will the trade talks be a success?

The Government hopes so as they were touted as one of the biggest benefits of Brexit, but they have very little time.

Any deals with other countries are likely to require controversial trade-offs, such as any agreement with the US over food standards and the NHS.

EU officials are sceptical we’ll be able to strike a deal within the year.

If we do, there will be a new set of rules from 1 January 2021.

If not, we could crash out on ‘WTO terms’ – the basic rules that slap high tariffs and restrictions on trade.

What will Boris Johnson do next?

No10 is desperate to move on from Brexit and to focus on domestic policy. The PM will have a big Cabinet reshuffle and is expected to make a string of announcements that benefit new Tory constituencies in the Midlands and North.

He won his election victory on a promise of “levelling up” the British economy with greater investment into areas devastated by a decade of Tory austerity.

But with tough trade talks and another looming deadline, Brexit isn’t going away, even if the PM has restricted parliamentary scrutiny of the next phase. 

Will our economy be stronger after Brexit?

The full consequences of Brexit are uncertain. Much depends on whether we get a trade deal with the EU. Without one, the UK will “fall out” onto damaging WTO terms.

Even if Mr Johnson manages to strike a Canada-style agreement with the EU, the Treasury’s own forecasts estimate that Britain’s economy would be 4.9% smaller – more than £100bn a year – after 15 years than it would be if we’d stayed in the EU.

The Government claims the economy could be boosted by trade deals with other countries – but the long-promised “Brexit dividend” looks unlikely.

And what about our place on the world stage?

Mr Johnson has promised post-Brexit Britain will be an outward-looking global power, building on relationships with old Commonwealth allies and newer “Five Eyes” security partners.

By leaving the EU we may have more freedom, but we will also have markedly less clout in a world where the three major global hubs are the US, China and the EU.

For decades Britain saw itself as a bridge between Europe and the US – but with Brexit and Donald Trump those relationships are under strain.

And while we remain a major global economy, our departure from the single market makes us less attractive to many foreign investors.

If the UK splinters after Brexit, with Scotland going it alone, it could put at risk its right to a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Will I still be able to travel to Europe?

UK nationals will still be able to live, work and drive in the EU as they do now until the end of the transition. Future travel restrictions will be hammered out over the next 11 months.

You won’t need a visa from 1 January 2021 if you’re a tourist. But British citizens will no longer be able to spend more than three months in the EU without applying for a work or study visa.

You may also need to show a return ticket, that you have enough money for your stay, and stop using EU passport lanes at European borders.

The UK will bring in its own immigration system to control EU migration from the end of the year – though the Government always had the option of reducing immigration from outside the EU, but chose not to for economic reasons. 

What if I fall ill on holiday?

You will be able to continue getting treatment in EU hospitals as you do now until the end of the transition period.

After that, the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which gives Brits access to EU healthcare in an emergency, will no longer work.

There will not be one EU-wide regime on healthcare so it is up to the UK to strike “reciprocal” health cover with individual states.

A pact with Spain – home to 250,000 British expats – is likely to be among the first agreed.

But if no deals to look after each others’ citizens are struck, British travellers will require adequate health insurance, while EU migrants here will be charged £400 a year to use the NHS. 

What will happen to EU citizens?

EU citizens can continue arriving freely in the UK to live and work until 31 December 2020. But they must apply by June 2021 for “settled status”, which gives them the right to stay in the UK.

Those who haven’t lived in the UK for five continuous years have to apply twice – first for “pre-settled status”, then again for settled status when the hit the five-year mark.

After the transition period, new EU migrants will be subject to a points-based immigration system.

They will have to prove their skills and probably earn a minimum salary.

Will I still get my workers’ rights?

The Government will set its own workers’ rights after the transition with many fearing they will be watered down – or dropped entirely.

Currently the EU has limits on night work and requirements for daily and weekly rest breaks.

It also sets a 48-hour limit on the working week while giving employees the right to four weeks’ paid annual leave, plus bank holidays.

Some expect anti-age discrimination measures to be removed – meaning there will be little or no protection for younger or older workers.

Agency workers could be stripped of their right to equal treatment as permanent staff. Ministers have said they will continue maternity rights but there are no guarantees. 

What else changes for me from January 2021?

You will no longer be guaranteed free mobile phone roaming in the EU as the issue will be left to operators. Duty free will return on flights and boats to the EU. But there are likely to be some checks on lorries and vehicles crossing the Channel that could lead to delays. There will also be new checks on goods crossing between Britain and Northern Ireland under the terms of the Irish backstop. You may also need an international driving permit as well as a ‘green card’ to prove you have the right car insurance and a GB bumper sticker. Pet owners can carry on bringing their animals to the EU on ‘pet passports’ until December, but after will need to obtain a health certificate. The Supreme Court will be the highest court of appeal in the UK and there will be no direct role for the European Court of Justice in British life. 

Is the Union under threat?

Boris Johnson has spoken about the “awesome foursome” of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

But Brexit may be the catalyst which breaks up the country, with nationalist sentiment on the rise in Scotland and a steady march towards a reunified Ireland bolstered by the limited border down the Irish Sea. Wales – which backed Brexit – is more integrated with England than the other “celtic” nations.

But if Scotland goes it alone and prospers then Wales could want to follow a similar path.

Read More

Brexit Day news and explained

Can Brexit be reversed?

The UK is now legally out of the EU and can no longer “cancel” Brexit by revoking Article 50. UK citizens will cease to be citizens of the EU.

If we want to rejoin the EU in future, it will be under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty, a lengthy process that needs the approval of all 27 states. It would also require us to join the Euro.


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