Remember Brexit? Here's What's Happening Now

February 15th 2017

Mike Rothschild

After the UK passed its June 2016 referendum to leave the European Union, it seemed like chaos reigned supreme.

Prime Minister David Cameron resigned just a few weeks later, with a number of other prominent U.K. government officials resigning as well. Stock markets around the world plunged, taking weeks to recover their losses, while the U.K. economy contracted, and the pound temporarily shrugged off decades of value. 

But the long-term effects of Brexit continue to be unknowable, as the U.K.'s departure from the E.U. continues to wind its way through a tangle of legal challenges, studies, and negotiations.

Nearly eight months after the people of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales voted to leave the E.U., where does the process stand?

In October 2016, new Prime Minister Theresa May announced that she'd begin the legal process of separating the UK from the EU in March, 2017.

This would involve invoking Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union, which lays out the procedure for how nations can leave the EU.

Outgoing Prime Minister Cameron had said during the run-up to the Brexit vote that Article 50 would be invoked immediately after a potential Leave vote. But in his resignation speech, he indicated he would leave the triggering of Article 50 to his successor.

This led influential British newspaper the Guardian to speculate that Cameron had "handed the next prime minister a poisoned chalice" and that the economic chaos that followed the Leave vote would ensure Article 50 was never put into action.

Making the matter even more difficult is that Article 50 had never been invoked, as no member nation had ever tried to leave the European Union. At just 250 words long, Article 50 gives little guidance as to how a country should go about disentangling itself from the economic and legal bonds of the EU, other than giving the leaving nation a two year sunset period to negotiate a deal.

As a result of the uncertainty and lack of precedent, there was a great deal of confusion over whether or not the prime minister actually had the right to invoke Article 50. This lead to a series of lawsuits alleging that the Prime Minister unilaterally acting to trigger Article 50 would violate individual rights that could only be superseded by another act of Parliament.


A combination of these cases was heard by the High Court of Justice of England and Wales, which affirmed the need for Parliament to vote on invoking Article 50. The government appealed the case, sending it to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, who affirmed the ruling in January, 2017.

On Feb. 14, the voting process took a step forward as one half of Parliament, the House of Commons, overwhelmingly voted to trigger Article 50. The vote will next go to the House of Lords, the other half of Parliament, but Parliament observers have said that body might try to amend the triggering bill, which might send it back to the House of Commons for another vote.

it's not clear if that vote will take place before March, meaning May might not meet her self-imposed deadline.

Meanwhile, legal teams on both sides are gearing up for a slog of laws and financial agreements that will need to be renegotiated once Article 50 is invoked. With hundreds of thousands of Britons living in Europe and vice versa, tens of thousands of legal agreements between the two bodies, and only two years to figure all of it out, a smooth transition is far from assured — giving those who advocated the U.K. stay in the E.U. even more incentive to stall on formally starting the process.