What you need to know about Brexit

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Prime Minister Theresa May has officially triggered Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty and notified the bloc of the U.K.?s intention to withdraw. WSJ’s Jason Douglas explores the decisions, deals and conflicts that could arise over the next two years.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has formally launched the process for leaving the European Union. Picture: AFP/Ben Stansall

BRITISH Prime Minister Theresa May has triggered Article 50, the legal mechanism that allows the UK to formally leave the European Union, after Parliament finally gave her permission to start the Brexit process

But this “divorce” doesn’t take effect instantly. There is still a lot of work to be done to unpick decades of co-operation between the UK and the EU.

Article 50 states that the treaties relating to EU membership will remain in force until a withdrawal agreement is signed or, failing that, two years from the notification of intent to withdraw.

BREXIT UNDERWAY: Theresa May signs Article 50 letter

Britain's ambassador to the EU Tim Barrow (left) delivers British Prime Minister Theresa May's formal notice of the UK's intention to leave the bloc to European Council President Donald Tusk (right) in Brussels. Picture: AFP/Pool/Emmanuel Dunand

Britain’s ambassador to the EU Tim Barrow (left) delivers British Prime Minister Theresa May’s formal notice of the UK’s intention to leave the bloc to European Council President Donald Tusk (right) in Brussels. Picture: AFP/Pool/Emmanuel DunandSource:AFP

In this time, it’s not clear if the UK can change its mind, because Article 50 has never been invoked before.

Lawyers on both sides in the legal battle through the courts have said once Article 50 has been invoked, it is irrevocable. But Lord Kerr, the diplomat who drafted the measure, has suggested a country could change its mind. European Council president Donald Tusk has also indicated that abandoning Brexit could be an option.

If the UK doesn’t change its mind, here are possible milestones for the Brexit process.

KEY BREXIT MILESTONES

March 29, 2017: Within 48 hours of Theresa May informing the European Council of Britain’s intention to leave the EU, the European Commission is expected to issue “draft negotiation guidelines”, which will be sent to the 27 remaining states.

March 30, 2017: A white paper will be produced on the Great Repeal Bill — the legislation that will turn more than 40 years of EU regulations into domestic laws.

April 29, 2017: An extraordinary European Council summit of the remaining 27 states will be held to agree a mandate for chief negotiator Michel Barnier and clear the way for talks to begin in earnest in May.

May 4, 2017: Local government elections in England, Wales and Scotland will give voters a first opportunity to pass judgment on Mrs May’s handling of Brexit negotiations.

An arrangement of British newspapers reporting on the Brexit process. Picture: AFP/Daniel Sorabji

An arrangement of British newspapers reporting on the Brexit process. Picture: AFP/Daniel SorabjiSource:AFP

May 7, 2017: A new president will be elected in France. Victory for the National Front’s Marine le Pen could throw the European side into disarray by raising the prospect that France too will quit the EU. A win for Emmanuel Macron or Francois Fillon may also affect the EU27’s negotiating stance.

September 24, 2017: German federal elections could see Angela Merkel replaced as Chancellor by former European Parliament president and staunch federalist Martin Schulz, who once called for the creation of a “genuine European Government”.

May 2018: English local government elections.

October 2018: This is the target date Mr Barnier has set for concluding withdrawal negotiations, in order to allow time for them to be ratified before the end of the two-year Article 50 deadline.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she wants a second referendum on Scottish independence after the terms of the deal are known and before Brexit takes effect in the spring of 2019.

European Council President Donald Tusk holds British Prime Minister Theresa May's formal notice of the UK's intention to leave the EU. Picture: AFP/Pool/Emmanuel Dunand

European Council President Donald Tusk holds British Prime Minister Theresa May’s formal notice of the UK’s intention to leave the EU. Picture: AFP/Pool/Emmanuel DunandSource:AFP

2018/19: Once a deal is concluded between the Commission and the UK, it will go back to the member states of the EU for approval by the remaining states.

March 29, 2019: Two years after the invocation of Article 50, the UK ceases to be a member of the EU and is no longer subject to its treaties, whether or not a withdrawal agreement has been reached. This date can be extended for further negotiations by agreement between all member states.

May 2019: European Parliament elections will take place without the UK.

May 7, 2020: Scheduled date for the first UK general election following Brexit.

?There?s no reason to pretend this is a happy day,? said European Council President Donald Tusk on receipt of a letter from UK Prime Minister Theresa May triggering the start of the Brexit process. Brexit, Tusk said, had made the remaining countries in the EU ?more united? and determined. He said the process of Brexit would be about ?damage control? and minimizing costs for the EU member states. Credit: European Council via Storyful

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