In focus

Brexit day: what happens on 31 January 2020?


Brexit day on 31 January marks the end of the UK’s membership of the European Union and the start of the “transition period”. After three previous departure dates came and went (20 March 2019, 12 April 2019 and 31 October 2019), it’s the one we all expect to actually happen.

The transition – or “implementation” – period will last for 11 months until 31 December 2020.

The end of the transition period has already been referred to as a new “cliff edge”. It’s possible, however, that this deadline could be extended too - up to a maximum final date of 31 December 2022.

So what can we expect on 31 January?

In pretty much all respects we can expect everything to be exactly the same.

But at 11pm GMT the UK will leave the European Union, something no country has done before.

Three and a half years after the EU referendum, the major difference is that the UK will not have any members of the European Parliament (MEPs).

British businesses will still be covered by EU rules and trading arrangements. The UK will continue to contribute to the EU’s budget.

But Brexit in name will be “done” and the Department for Exiting the European Union will apparently be “wound up”.

Crucially, though, the reality is that 11pm on 31 January will represent only the beginning of preparations for a new relationship with the EU.

Everything from trade tariffs (taxes on imports), access to fishing waters and safety standards to freedom of movement is still to be thrashed out and untangled.

Article 50 and whether the UK could have “cancelled” Brexit

There’s been no doubt over Boris Johnson’s stance on this one since he took over as prime minister in July, particularly as he campaigned in the recent general election under the slogan “Get Brexit done”. However, the possibility of revoking Article 50 and remaining in the EU has been a topic of considerable debate.

Article 50 was invoked back on 29 March 2017 by former Prime Minister Theresa May. The clause of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty, an agreement which became law in 2009, sets out the official process for leaving the EU.

A European Court of Justice ruling in 2018 concluded it could be revoked. A petition to do just that and remain in the EU became the biggest in history last March, with more than 3.5 million names.

With the UK officially leaving and entering the transition period, revoking Article 50 is no longer an option.

The UK voted to leave the EU by 52% to 48% in 2016. More than 33.5 million votes were cast.