We quit the EU in precisely a year – here's what we know about how life after Brexit, and all the questions that still haven't been answered

Today marks exactly a year since Theresa May wrote a letter to Brussels triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which starts the two-year timetable for a country to quit the EU.

We are now halfway through that process, meaning there is only a year before Brexit officially takes place.

A lot has happened since Article 50 was triggered, including an election, multiple rounds of talks with the EU and two major breakthroughs.

But there’s still a long way to go, with Britain and Europe only now getting round to hammering out an agreement on how we will trade after Brexit.

So what do we know about how Britain will look outside the EU – and what details are still a mystery?


We’ll be out in a year…

Britain will officially leave the EU at 11pm on March 29, 2019.

The date was set in the EU Withdrawal Bill, which passed the House of Commons three months ago.

From that point, the EU will be down to 27 members. British MEPs will leave the European Parliament and the UK will no longer have a representative on any of the main Brussels bodies.

This will be the point of no return – if Britain did decide to reverse Brexit, it would from this point have to reapply to join the EU.

…But things won’t look different at first

Britain and the EU have agreed that in the immediate aftermath of Brexit, there will be a 21-month “standstill” transition deal.

During that time, the UK will be treated as if we are still a member of the EU and will follow all European laws.

That means our borders will remain open to European migrants, we will be unable to strike new trade deals and we will be bound by strict rules on farming, fishing and other issues.

The transition deal was agreed last week in a bid to ensure businesses have enough time to prepare for life after Brexit.

The transition period will come to an end at midnight on January 1, 2021.

We’ll hand over billions after Brexit

As part of the “withdrawal agreement” struck in December, the UK has committed to give the EU a divorce payment of nearly £40billion.

The cash will go to pay for spending commitments made by the EU before Britain voted to leave – as well as ongoing costs such as pensions for British civil servants working in Brussels.

The Government insists the handout is much less than we would have to pay the EU if we had stayed a member.

EU migrants can stay in Britain – and vice versa

European migrants who are living in the UK can apply for “settled status”, a new programme which lets them keep the rights they have now for ever.

Brits living in other EU countries also get the same deal – ensuring that Brexit won’t affect their ability to stay in their adopted home.

Both sides are adamant that no one who has migrated from one European country to another will be harmed by Britain quitting the EU.

But free movement will stop in 2021

The Leave vote in 2016 was partly driven by a backlash against the open borders which have seen more than 3million European migrants settle in Britain.

So Theresa May has vowed to put an end to the free movement of people once we are no longer bound to European rules.

That means quitting the EU single market – because free movement is an integral part of it.

We’ll strike trade deals around the world

The Prime Minister has also committed to quitting the EU’s customs union after Brexit – despite calls from Labour to stay in it.

Leaving the customs union will allow Britain to cut trade deals with other countries, such as the US and Asia’s economic giants.

American and Australian officials have already pledged to strike agreements with the UK as soon as possible.


Will we get a trade deal?

Negotiators on both sides insist that Britain and the EU will be able to strike a free trade deal within the next year.

But the UK Government is still working on plans to limit the damage if we end up crashing out with no deal.

And some sceptics insist a year is not enough to get a comprehensive economic agreement.

If there is no deal, huge tariffs will be slapped on goods passing between Britain and the continent.

What’s happening with Northern Ireland?

Both the UK and Brussels have committed to keeping the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland open after Brexit.

Theresa May has also ruled out any customs checks between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain.

Neither side has explained how this will work – because if the two sides of the border have different standards for goods, then in theory all trucks crossing from one country to the other will need to be inspected.

Ministers insist they can use modern technology to register crossing digitally – but eurocrats claim it would be simpler for Northern Ireland just to remain part of the customs union.

How many EU rules will we keep?

Britain has proposed a system of “managed divergence” – meaning we will keep EU rules in some areas to help trade flow smoothly, but set our own regulations on other matters.

But it’s still not clear exactly which sectors of the economy will fall in which basket.

Brussels has suggested that it we veer too far from European laws, we won’t be able to trade freely, but Brexiteers led by Boris Johnson are adamant we must be able to set our own legal regime.

What will the new travel rules be?

The end of free movement will make it harder for Brits to travel to, and work on, the continent.

It’s highly unlikely that we will need visas to visit European countries – meaning tourists going on short trips should be unaffected.

But the new rules could prevent British people from going to work in the EU unless they already have a firm job offer and have been granted permission by the country they want to move to.

And they could also stop pensioners from the UK moving to countries like Spain or France to retire, as happens at the moment.

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