Is 29th March 2019 the date we leave the EU?

Updated 15th November 2017 with hyperlinks and to reflect political developments in Westminster.

The date of 29 March 2019 is never far from the lips of government ministers. As the two-year period for negotiating our departure from the European Union runs down, that day is heralded by leading Brexiters as one of the few certainties left in this chaotic Brexit process. But, as is often the case, reality is far less straightforward. The government’s initial draft of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill did not mention a precise date once, referring instead to the “exit day” throughout the document. Steve Baker MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for DexEU, told the Procedure Select Committee in October that it is a “a matter of fact that exit day could be extended by mutual agreement”. The date of our departure from the EU is far from set in stone.

There are four circumstances in which that date would not apply:

  • If Britain changes its mind about Brexit and withdraws the notification, made under Article 50, of its intention to leave.
  • If, in early 2019, there is not yet a “divorce deal”, but there is unanimous agreement to extend the 2-year deadline so negotiations can continue. No-one wants that at present, but come early 2019 it may be seen differently.
  • If there is a deal, in which case it is the deal which sets the departure date, which could still be 29 March 2019 but doesn’t have to be. It might be considered more practical to leave at the end of the fiscal year, calendar year, or even to have a transition period with Britain still a Member.
  • If there is a deal, but it is challenged on legal grounds in the EU Court of Justice. The Court would no doubt say that the clock stops pending its consideration of the case, likely to take several months. And if it then found fault in the agreement, it would have to allow time for a re-negotiation.

Perhaps none of these scenarios have more than one chance in ten of happening (though many people say that the chances of the first are higher). But four such scenarios make it four chances out of ten. Enough to constitute a serious possibility. On top of that, the last three are potentially cumulative.

So don’t risk too high a bet on the date….


  1. Hi Richard & congratulations on becoming leader of the EPLP.
    You won’t remember me, but I was in a selection contest with you in Derby many years ago. I was a translator working on the Rainbow for 20 years.
    Anyway, thanks for carrying on the struggle against the Brexit disaster & now you are on the NEC you’ll be able to do even more, so that’s good news.
    I got my Irish citizenship in June to make sure I retain my European citizenship, but I am very worried about my son who lives in France with his French partner & their two sons 13 & 10.
    I just wondered if you have any idea, from your French colleagues of how the French government is likely to treat British citizens in his position, if the UK continues with this madness? Unfortunately my son does not qualify for Irish citizenship.
    I’d appreciate your opinion. Many thanks, Lynne

  2. We should leave the EU even without a deal all EU citizens should return to there own country and reapply to enter the UK as for the European Court we should not reconise it’s ruleing

    • THE nhs, social care, agriculture and the hotel and catering sector all heavily depend on EU staff. Think of the disruption that having to return to their country would cause, life threatening in the case of nhs. How would you feel if you had to do this? Would you come back? I wouldn’t. And what about the 1.2m British residents of EU -they won’t thank us either.

  3. When more & more evidence of foreign manipulation is emerging the whole thing should be abandoned. Given the lack of political or, with a couple of notable exceptions, media interest I won’t hold my breath that that will happen. I am deeply concerned about the increasing authoritarian tone. This independent journalist, a former police officer who turned whistleblower to expose the Met crime figure scandal thus forcing a Parliamentary Inquiry, submitted this report to HMG, EU, NATO & FBI in May. At present, it appears that only the FBI have taken any notice. It is now being backed up by Guardian journalists Carole Cadwalladr as you have no doubt read. Please read this &consider who would be best placed to take it forward:

  4. You missed one, possibly the most important one: that there has been no constitutional decision made to leave the EU therefore the Article 50 notice is not valid.
    The Supreme Court ruled that the decision must be taken by Parliament.
    The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017 does not record any decision made by parliament and even if the Enabling Act currently being debate does make that decision, it is too late to validate the Article 50 notice and a new notice would need to be submitted.

  5. I think there’s little chance of the leave date in 2019 because there won’t be time to draw up a transition agreement. Legally, an extension seems much simpler, and EU want to give the UK every opportunity to reverse it’s decision, even after 2019.

  6. Since you wrote this there has been (in November) a significant increase in ‘remain’ benefits being reported from non-political concerned groups in Business, industry as well as government departments highlighting where the government is falling short by not understanding the nitty gritty of leave consequences. Plus an uprising of Tory MP’s who are questioning the party line. So, a 5th circumstance perhaps??

    What if there’s a vote of no confidence in the Tories and the government collapses, and a snap election results?

    I could imagine this could happen as almost daily, issues become complicated/inflamed. Eg (a) hard Border in Ireland/DUP support withdrawn and no easy solution if we do not have a trade deal to remain in the single market/customs union.
    Eg (b) if Labour Party decide to swoop on the Tory wheels falling off combined with Labour sensing public sentiment over Brexit changing due to ‘no deal’ consequences looking dire long-term

    Were there a need for an election due to Tory collapse, Brexit would likely be a key campaign issue. I guess that’s a lot of ‘ifs’ but the ticking clock would at the least get paused while the nation resets priorities/ leaders/policies and EU plans? Yes? No?

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