Dr David Jukes, The University of Reading, UK

Providng access to food law since May 1996

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Last updated: 2 April, 2024

'Brexit' - The Process of the UK withdrawing from the European Union

On this page:
  • Summary - A brief outline of the background to Brexit
  • Documents - Links to some of the key legal documents relating to Brexit
  • Regulations - Links to some of the draft and final Regulations being issued to implement Brexit and ensure the legal framework exists from 'exit day'
  • News items - Links to relevent items of news given on this site's news pages

At 23.00 on Friday 31st January 2020, the United Kingdom ceased to be a member of the European Union - Brexit had been achieved. There was then a 'Transition Perirod' until the 31st December 2020 during which the UK continued to meet EU legal requirements and was considered to still be within the 'Internal Market'. This page contain details relating to the period up until the 31 January 2020. For details of the Transition Period and subsequent UK food law developments, see the separate page: UK Food Legislation Post-Brexit.


There had been a strong political movement for many years for the UK to withdraw from the European Union. Eventually the UK government agreed to allow a referendum to be held to allow the people of the UK to decide the issue. This was held on the 23rd June 2016 and the result was that about 52% wished to withdraw and 48% wished to remain. The government accepted this result and was committed to withdrawing from the Union.


The Treaty on the European Union has an Article on the prcess by which a country can become a new Member State (Article 49) but it also includes a single Article on the process of leaving. This is given in Article 50:

1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.

2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.

3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.

4. For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it.

A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

5. If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49.

Under Article 50(2), a Member State is required to notify the European Council of the decision to withdraw. Following the UK referendum it was necessary for the UK government to undertake some planning and so formal notification only took place on the 29 March 2017. Under the terms of Article 50(2), this triggered a process of discussion to agree the 'arrangements for .. withdrawal'. Under Article 50(3), if no agreement is reached after two years, the UK would automatically cease to be a Member State - on the 29 March 2019. Also in Article 50(3) there is a posssibility of extending this limit but this requires the unanimous agreement of all the remaining 27 Member States.

The legislation adopted by the UK in June 2018 to implement the withdrawal, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, specified that 'Exit Day' would be on the 29th March 2019 at 11.00pm. On 'Exit Day', the UK would cease to be a Member State. Negotiations took place to agree transitional arrangements for a period after 'Exit Day'. However the UK Withdrawal Act included a provision that required the approval of Parliament to any withdrawal agreement. The UK government agreed a 'Withdrawal Agreement' with the EU in December 2018 but it failed to get the agreement of Parliament. Article 50 does however provide for a possible extension should all the other Member States agree to it. After two difficult weeks in the UK Parliament, on Thursday 14th March, Parliamanet adopted a motion requesting the Goverment to seek an extension until the end of June 2019.

The Prime Minister submitted her request for an extension on the 20 March 2019. The European Council considered this on the following day and provided an opportunity for an short extension but only until June (see documents list below). This was accepted by th UK Government and a draft UK amending regulation issued to put this into effect.. The UK Parliament was though still unable to reach an agereement on a 'deal' and, on 5 April 2019, the Prime Minister submitted a second request for an extension until the end of June2019. At another European Council meeting on the 10 April it was agreed to offer one further extension (until 31 October). The UK then participated in the elections for the European Parliament (on the 23 May). With a poor showing for her party in the elections, at this pooint the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, resigned her leadership of the Conservative Party and was replaced by Boris Johnson.

When Parliament returned after its summer recess in September 2019, those MPs opposed to a 'no deal' Brexit forced a vote on a new law requiring the new Prime Minister to request a further extension (until the end of January 2020) if no deal had been agreed. This was adopted. However the Prime Minister porogued (closed in preparation for a new session) Parliament for 5 weeks - significantly longer than normal. This decision was challenged in the courts and was deemed unlawful by the Supreme Court. Parliament therefore continued to meet whilst Boris Johnson negotiated with the EU for changes to the Withdrawal Agreement. A revised Agreement was agreed with the EU on 17th October. But with no majority in Parliament for approving the Withdrawal Agreement, the Prime Minister sought, and eventually got, approval for a General Election. This was held on the 13th December and resulted in the Conservative Party, led by Boris Johnson, gaining a substantial majority. They were then able, in January 2020, to gain Parliamentary approval for the Withdrawal Agreement with 'exit day' being 11.00pm on 31st January 2020.

The UK ceased being a Member State at that time. The Withdrawal Agreement provided for the UK to enter a transition period (or implementation period) during which nearly all EU legislation continued to apply. Linked to the Agreement, was a Political Declaration which set out plans for establishing the future relationship at the end of the transition. Detailed negotiation on the precise nature of the new relationship then took place. The transition period ended on the 31 December 2020. Just before the deadline, on 24 December 2020, an agreement was reached in the form of a 'Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA)'

As the UK has been a Member State since 1973, there is a huge amount of national legislation that either is derived from EU legislation or is based on the assumption that the UK is a Member State. It has therefore been a massive task to establish a revised legal status that is consistent and which meets the needs of the UK to maintain close relationships with the remaining 27 Member States.

See UK Food Legislation Post-Brexit for more recent updates.

This page contains material linked to the process of 'Brexit'.



Using powers contained in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (see link above), the Government is authorised to issue Regulations to ensure that all legislation based on EU legislation contain valid legal requirements and can be effectively implemented and enforced (so as to remove legal 'deficiencies'). This is a major task but simplified procedures have been established. The Act sets out a process for this and includes the issuing of draft regulations prior to their adoption. Many of the changes make amendments to exisitng EU Regulations when applied in the UK allowing for their continued application the UK.

When spotted, links will be provided here to some of these. The final adopted Regulations will also be included in the pages given details of all UK regulations (see: Food Legislation - Index to access):

Draft Regulations:

Adopted Regulations:

Note: These Regulations become effective on 'Exit Day' or, if published after 'Exit Day', the day after publication.




Northern Ireland

News Items

News items linked to the process of negotiating withdrawal and new trade arrangements - both general and food law related:

For more recent Brexit news items, see the listing on the separate page: UK Food Legislation Post-Brexit

This page was first provided on 25 May 2017
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