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Britain has officially left the EU — here's what happens now

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·2-min read
KNUTSFORD, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 17:  In this photo illustration, the sun sets behind European Union and the Union flag bunting on March 17, 2016 in Knutsford, United Kingdom. The United Kingdom will hold a referendum on June 23, 2016 to decide whether or not to remain a member of the European Union (EU), an economic and political partnership involving 28 European countries which allows members to trade together in a single market and free movement across its borders for citizens.  (Photo illustration by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
The UK officially left the EU on 31 January, 2020. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Britain has left the EU after almost half a century of membership, as Brexit came into effect on Friday night.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said it marked the “dawn of a new era” in a televised speech shortly before Britain’s official exit from the bloc.

It comes more than three years after a majority of the population voted to leave in a referendum.

Political and business attention will now shift to a new round of trade talks, with both the EU and countries around the world.

What to expect this year

Little is expected to change immediately. The EU’s rules and rights will still apply during a special transition period.

This includes continued UK single market access, budget contributions and freedom of movement. The main difference will be at EU institutions, where Britain will lose representation.

The transition period only lasts 11 months, and intense negotiations will soon begin over a free trade agreement beyond 2020.

READ MORE: What the Brexit transition period now means for UK firms

The Brexit withdrawal agreement may have dominated British politics, but only covered Britain’s divorce rather than thrashing out the detail of future UK-EU relations.

Brexit itself marks “just the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end,” said Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce.

Brexit timeline for trade talks

  • Early February – Prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to set out Britain’s ambitions in UK-EU trade talks in a speech next week. The European Commission says it will adopt its own “comprehensive” agenda on 3 February.

  • Late February – EU foreign ministers are expected to sign off their negotiating plans, allowing talks to start.

  • Early March – Trade talks are reported to be due to start on 3 March.

  • June – A summit could be held to check on progress, according to analysts at Schroders. June is the official deadline to extend the transition beyond 2020. The EU says one delay of up to two years would be allowed, but Johnson has promised no extension.

  • November – This could be the final deadline for a deal, if not earlier, for the EU to be able to approve it before 2021.

  • December – Britain is set to leave EU rules on 31 December, and any new deal would come into effect. If no deal or transition is agreed, Britain would face significant new EU trade barriers under World Trade Organization rules.

READ MORE: What UK immigration rules will look like after Brexit