The important Brexit dates you need to know

What will happen at 11pm tonight? How long is the transition period? By what date does the UK have to ask for an extension?

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More than three years after the Brexit vote, the UK will officially leave the European Unoon at 11pm tonight (31 January). But little, initially at least, will change. The UK will enter a transition period lasting until at least 31 December 2020 as it seeks to agree a new trade deal with the EU. Throughout this phase, freedom of movement will still exist, European courts will still maintain supremacy over UK law and there will be no checks at the border.

The only real difference is that the UK will no longer be represented in the various European bodies that make up the EU — the parliament, the commission and the council. Here are the key dates to look out for in 2020 as the UK begins trade negotiations. 

31 January 

The transition period begins.

20 February

The European budget for 2021-2027 will be agreed at a meeting of heads of state. If there is to be disunity among the EU members, then this is the most likely moment. With the UK no longer making regular contributions, there will suddenly be a large black hole in the European budget and painful decisions will have to be made.

3 March

The trade negotiations begin. The EU will agree its negotiating mandate beforehand. Will the British government also make its negotiating aims clear? At present it looks like a loose draft may be published, but not a detailed plan.

1 July

If there is to be an extension to the transition period, this is the date by which it must be agreed. Since Boris Johnson has in effect outlawed an extension by amending the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, there seems to be little chance of this. However, incredibly unlikely as it may be, Johnson has a majority, and feasibly he could unmake the law just as easily as he made it. Unless there is a huge Tory rebellion, opposition MPs will not be able to seize the agenda and demand an extension as they did last time.

26 November 

A deal must have been agreed by this date in order for it to be ratified by all 27 EU member states and the European parliament before the end of the year. Given the complexity of the negotiations over services, some experts believe that ratification might be avoided in certain areas of the deal and agreed further down the line. 

31 December

Without an extension, this is the date on which the transition period ends and the deal agreed by Johnson starts to be felt. This is also the deadline by which European nationals must apply for settled status if there is no deal. If there is a deal, then the deadline will be 30 June 2021.

31 December 2022

This is the end date of the longest possible extension to the transition period. 

George Grylls is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2019.