June 2016: Britain votes to leave the EU and all hell breaks loose.
On June 24 2016, Britain voted to leave the EU.
The pound instantly tanked. Not for the last time.
On Twitter, Lindsay Lohan got angry about it, notably with regard to the town of Kettering. We'll have to come back to this.
The recriminations began in earnest.
And David Cameron resigned.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was hit by mass resignations from the shadow cabinet over his handling of the referendum.
Which meant the Labour leader had to find new shadow ministers from somewhere.
It was total carnage. This MP, for example, replaced a member of the shadow cabinet who'd resigned, and then resigned herself two days later. Really.
In the end 172 Labour MPs backed a vote of no confidence in him, and Corbyn said... he wasn't going anywhere.
Meanwhile on the Tory side, there was a leadership contest.
Michael Gove's wife accidentally emailed a random member of the public revealing her doubts about Boris Johnson.
THEN things got really mad. Gove announced that far from supporting Johnson in his leadership bid, he'd actually decided to stand against him.
And so what was supposed to be the press conference in which Johnson announced his leadership bid... became the moment he announced he was stepping down from the contest.
People accused both Vote Leave leaders of shirking their responsibilities.
And England also lost at football to Iceland in the European Championships, thus exiting Europe for the second time in just a couple of days.
The Kettering Situation was still rumbling on in the background. In response to criticism from the town's MP, Lindsay Lohan offered to turn on its Christmas lights. We'll have to come back to that.
July - October 2016: Britain gets a new prime minister.
After Andrea Leadsom pulled out of the leadership race, Theresa May became our prime minister.
It was time for a cabinet reshuffle.
People were stunned by some of her decisions: she sacked George Osborne, the chancellor, sacked justice secretary Michael Gove, and installed Boris Johnson as foreign secretary.
While these were the moves that generated the big headlines, perhaps the more significant moves occurred in the back offices. May created a new department: The Department for Exiting the European Union (DexEU), which would be led by the Brexiteer David Davis. She appointed Olly Robbins as its permanent secretary. She also made Robbins her "sherpa" at the negotiations.
Some advisors felt the creation of DexEU was a mistake — why was power being split between No10 and a new department lead by a man with different views on Europe to May? Which one was going to lead the talks with Brussels? And why was Robbins, a senior civil servant with little experience of Europe, being pulled between the demands of the prime minister and the head of the new department?
Throughout the summer of 2016, clarity was sought from May on what Brexit actually ~meant~. All we got from her, at this stage, was that there wouldn't be a second referendum, and "Brexit means Brexit", a mantra that would be robotically repeated for months to come
Little else happened, although the pound, having stabilized in the wake of the referendum result, fell again.
It was really only during this period that people began to seriously talk about the issue that lies at the heart of all the carnage to come: the Irish border.
David Cameron had spent a day in Northern Ireland during the campaign, and another senior Tory — Theresa May — did point out there could be an issue prior to the referendum. But it was hardly afforded the significance it would later take.
There was a lack of detailed understanding of the implications Brexit would have. Read this piece for insight into how much ignorance there was — here a former Vote Leave staffer describes how the organisation was asked for someone to go on TV to debate the effects of Brexit on the border.
"Nobody in the office was keen to take up the request, with even our more polished and experienced media performers rejecting the opportunity on the grounds that they simply lacked real knowledge of the issue," he wrote.
October 2016: The seeds of disaster are sown.
May finally set out her vision at Tory party conference, in a speech written by her adviser Nick Timothy. And it was: trigger Article 50 before the end of March 2017, without a vote in parliament, and end freedom of movement.
In retrospect, a lot of things went very wrong at this point.
Triggering Article 50 would immediately put Britain on the back foot by setting the clock ticking on a two-year exit deadline. Even Vote Leave, during the referendum campaign, had said "no rational government" would immediately trigger it.
But May did it anyway, reportedly against the advice of her officials, in a desire to prove to her own party that despite backing Remain in the campaign she believed in Brexit.
The announcement was, in the words of one diplomat, cause for great celebration in the European Commission's headquarters.
The decision was, however, largely welcomed, or at least not criticised, by those across the political spectrum in the UK, including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who supported it.
In retrospect, this is staggering.
There was more. A lot of people, including EU leaders, and indeed the chancellor Philip Hammond, who hadn't been briefed on it, felt she'd laid out a series of undeliverable red lines. May had, for instance, rejected both the Norway and Switzerland models for Britain's future relationship with the EU. One EU diplomat asked what was left: "The North Korean model?"
Even more alarming: Tesco briefly stopped selling Marmite due to a price row caused by Brexit.
Phase one of May's plan went wrong pretty much straight away. Three high court judges ruled the government could not constitutionally trigger Article 50 without being authorised to do so by Parliament. The government appealed to the Supreme Court. The Daily Mail (above) wasn't happy, and indeed could be said to have overreacted a tiny bit.
On the plus side, remember the Kettering / Lindsay Lohan situation? It was finally resolved, after she tweeted a video apology to the town, having earlier pledged to turn on the Christmas lights.
Jan. 4, 2017
Ivan Rogers, the UK's ambassador to the EU, quit after months of tension at the top of government. In an explosive letter, he said that his warnings about the potential problems with the Brexit process had been roundly ignored, revealing that neither a team nor a strategy had been drawn up. Months earlier, in October, a letter in which he'd warned a trade deal with the EU could take up to 10 years, had leaked.
January 2017: May sets out her Brexit vision
On Jan. 17, after months of waiting, May expanded on her vision of what Brexit meant in a speech at Lancaster House in London.
The speech was the first time we'd heard her use a phrase that, years later, would come back to bite her: "No deal is better than a bad deal."
The importance of the Irish border was becoming increasingly clear across Whitehall, and May's speech did little to assuage concerns.
With Britain leaving the customs union and single market, two separate issues had to be dealt with: customs — essentially making sure that the right tariffs have been paid, and regulatory checks — making sure the goods meet EU standards and aren't, for example, dangerous to consumers in any way.
Without checks, banned goods could move from Northern Ireland to the republic and into the EU undercutting, for example, standards on food, generating unfair competition to their farmers. But conversely, if border posts went up, it would provoke terrorism.
Yet in the same speech, May insisted on wanting "frictionless" trade with the EU, and no return to the "borders of the past" in Ireland. It made no sense.
The right wing press was very confident in May, but under the surface, problems were already brewing.
Then May suffered her first significant Brexit defeat. On Jan. 24, the Supreme Court ruled that parliamentary consent would be required to trigger Article 50.
However, it didn't delay things much. On Jan. 26 , the majority of MPs unsurprisingly (Jeremy Corbyn imposed a three-line Labour whip) voted in favour of triggering it — with only 100 voting against.
March 2017: Theresa May triggers Article 50.
On March 29, Theresa May signed a letter that formally announced the UK's exit from the European Union. It would be hand-delivered by Britain's EU ambassador, Sir Tim Barrow, to the president of the European Council at 12.30pm.
Responding to questions from BBC radio host Nick Robinson about whether the Brexit process was a “leap in the dark”, the chancellor Phillip Hammond claimed “we are all on the same page”, and said all parties involved had the same agenda for exiting the EU.
There were remarkably few dissenting voices.
At this stage in the process, there were a number of issues to thrash out. They included: the Brexit bill, the UK's withdrawal from the single market, and customs and free trade arrangements with the EU.
The EU had set out the key issues, and said future trade discussions could only start once they were resolved. Years later, Gavin Barwell, May's former chief of staff, would express his regret over the government's eventual willingness to accept this sequencing. By all accounts, May overrode her Brexit secretary, David Davis, who warned against it. Perhaps this wouldn't have happened had she not lost her key advisers.
But it's the triggering of Article 50 that's the elephant in the room — Britain pretty much had to concede ground on these issues, for while it held out, the no-deal clock was ticking.
April 18, 2017 — May 9, 2017: Theresa May makes one of the worst mistakes in British electoral history.
On April 18, May shocked the country by calling a snap general election. It was a surprise, because she had pledged repeatedly not to hold one. Also, the Article 50 clock was ticking, so this was going to delay negotiations.
However, she had clearly come round to the view that she needed a stronger mandate to deliver Brexit.
Brexit became less of an issue as campaigning went on than many observers had expected — the election was punctuated by two major terror attacks, which meant national security became a pressing concern, the Tory party machine was unprepared, and a major internal row broke out over how social care was to be funded, after the party's manifesto was altered.
People were also surprised by how vibrant and effective a campaign Jeremy Corbyn ran.
May's campaign, on the other hand, was variously criticised for being robotic, repetitive and soulless.
Once the dust had settled, her majority had disappeared and she only remained in power via a confidence and supply deal with the DUP, a hardline Northern Ireland unionist party.
It meant that despite Northern Ireland voting remain, a pro-Brexit party which won around a third of the vote in the general election had an enormous influence on the government in London.
The Tories began to debate whether May should step down immediately. In the end, she didn't, but her two most powerful advisers did.
July 2017: The Brexit talks begin.
At the time the talks began, British attention was largely focussed on the exit bill. May had originally told Jean Claude Juncker that Britain might not have to pay. This position quickly began to soften.
The key issue, however, was the Irish border. An early proposal by Britain suggested that regulatory checks didn't need to apply to small businesses, while larger companies could have their checks carried out at their places of business.
It demonstrates the initial thinking in government – though no doubt a number of officials felt otherwise – that this wasn't an impossible or particularly complex issue to solve, and could be fleshed out once talks moved on to the next stage: the UK-EU relationship.
September 2017: The Florence Speech
After a crushing general election result, the hardline Brexiteers held more sway in the Tory party. May gave a speech in Florence aimed at unlocking the Brexit talks — the main headlines were that she proposed a two-year transition period, and promised the UK would honour the commitments it had made as a member of the EU.
It was seen by Brexiteers as something of a climbdown: The original plan had been to conclude both a withdrawal agreement and a trade agreement with the EU inside the two-year Article 50 timeframe. There had been warnings from officials that this simply wasn't possible: indeed the leak of one such warning had been the reason Ivan Rogers had resigned.
September — December: Birth of The Backstop
The fourth and fifth rounds of Brexit talks were held in Brussels throughout September and early October. By the end of October, the EU27 agreed "no sufficient progress" had been made on the key issues of the divorce bill, and the role of the European Court of Justice, which would allow discussion of the next phrase — future relations.
Most significantly, according to reports, this was the moment that, despite early warnings, the government realised it had completely underestimated just how firm both the EU and Ireland were going to be over maintaining a seamless border, and one without the amount of exemptions initially proposed by Britain.
The situation was not helped by the fact everything around May's leadership seemed to be falling apart. At her disastrous conference speech that month, in Manchester, that included the set behind her.
But a solution was eventually found: the backstop. It said that if there was a deal with a seamless border, then all was well. But if not? Well, there would be "full alignment". Even though May didn't sell it to the Brexiteers quite this way, what it meant was that Northern Ireland would adopt EU rules.
The idea had huge problems. To Brexiteers like David Davis, it was created because the EU "needed a lever which put us in the wrong and them in the right, I think that's the way they saw it. [With] the Irish border there's a strong political, moral, sentimental argument... based on fiction really, but nevertheless that's how it's used."
Why sign up to something so contentious? Simply, because of Article 50: the clock was ticking.
In the early hours of December 8, a deal was reached on the key divorce issues between the EU and the UK. This man, along with many other Brexiteers, was happy with the agreement. At least at the time.
On Dec. 15, the EU27 announced there had been "sufficient progress", so negotiations on a possible transition period could begin. This was how the EU saw Britain's options. In Number 10, they suspected there was more flexibility. As far as May's time in office went, they were wrong.
Yet both sides were storing up trouble. There were masses of unanswered questions in the document that allowed the talks to progress.
As one German diplomat reportedly said: “It’s obviously nonsense. Just a pile of contradictions, but we all wanted to get home for Christmas.”
March 2018: The Mansion House speech
May gave another speech on Brexit at Mansion House in London, this time on our future economic relationship with Europe, which included five vague "tests" for the deal that would be negotiated.
Months earlier, in January, BuzzFeed News had published a leaked analysis that said the UK would be worse off outside the European Union under every scenario modelled. That's what happens when you lose the union with your closest trading partner. But by this point, many Brexiteers had decided that this hit was worth taking for the purposes of sovereignty.
What the government understood, however, was that no deal wasn't a credible threat. One Brexit official reportedly told ministers it was like "taking the pin out of a grenade and holding it next to your own head."
April – June 2018: The UK Tests Out Options, And Gets Nowhere
In new UK proposals, the backstop was extended from Northern Ireland to all of the UK, as opposed to the EU's original suggestion – that it should only cover Northern Ireland.
The UK's proposal would keep the entire country in a customs union with the EU for a limited period after the end of the proposed Brexit transition period in December 2020, getting rid of "tariffs, quotas, rules of origin and customs processes including declarations on all UK-EU trade."
This was rejected by the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.
It wasn't the only rejection Britain suffered during this period. A couple of months earlier, in April, UK negotiators had put forward suggestions including "max-fac", which argued that using technology, an invisible border could be created on the island of Ireland, and the new customs partnership (NCP), an extremely complex plan which proposed different tariff regimes in the UK and EU, but no need for customs checks.
They were subjected to, in the words of a source to the Daily Telegraph, "a detailed and forensic rebuttal".
That said, according to one report, NCP was left “marginally less dead … Both options don’t work, but one can be turned into something”.
Eventually, we'll see that this is important.
Public anger over the situation was, by this point, starting to boil over. The actor Danny Dyer went viral for asking of David Cameron: "Where is he? He's in Europe, in Nice, with his trotters up. Where is the geezer? I think he should be held accountable for it." He concluded:
July 2018: The Chequers Plan
The government announced that the cabinet would finally come to a decision about Brexit at a meeting in Chequers, the prime minister’s country retreat.
A "hybrid" customs plan was hastily drawn up by Number 10, along with a "common rulebook” for goods, to which the UK would sign up.
The plan had been sprung on Brexiteer ministers, including Boris Johnson and David Davis. Ministers did not have access to their phones or their advisers, and saw the (complex) documents for the first time that day.
Two days later, Johnson and Davis both resigned.
July-November 2018: The shit hits the fan.
For the next few months, there was extreme brinkmanship from both the EU and Britain.
While the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier cautiously welcomed the Chequers plan, as BuzzFeed News revealed, the 27 EU leaders had already been informed by Brussels that May’s plans would cross their red lines.
As one diplomat told the Telegraph's Europe editor Peter Foster: "With hindsight, perhaps we should have just come out and said these ideas were total rubbish and refused to proceed any further. But we didn’t want to weaken May, so everyone kept talking around it, saying, ‘We can’t do this or that, or we’d undermine her further.’ Maybe, looking back on it, that was our mistake.”
It was only in September, at a European summit meeting in Salzburg, that the wheels really came off.
May presented her argument to the EU. It was shut down by leaders in interviews, and most famously in this Instagram post from Donald Tusk, who accused her of wanting to have her cake and eat it.
The French leader Emmanuel Macron also piled in, calling upbeat Brexiteers "liars". It was, all told, a disaster. The Chequers plan was dead.
Britain, with a by-now furious May at the helm, pressed on, trying to extend the backstop to the whole of the UK. In October, the EU said it would commit to trying to make it happen.
In October, a special Brexit 50p was somewhat optimistically announced. We will, as you might suspect, have to return to this.
Nov. 13-25: Britain and the EU agree a (disastrous) deal.
On Nov. 13, Britain and the EU agreed a Brexit deal.
The draft agreement, published the next day, was met with extreme scepticism from hardline Brexiteers, and those who were opposed to the very idea of Brexit.
Britain got a UK-wide backstop – but it was not time-limited, nor was Britain allowed to undercut the EU in areas like labour or competition. The deal also said that either side could extend the implementation period by up to two years, if they wished. And Northern Ireland was, effectively, in the single market as far as regulations were concerned.
As one former minister, Jo Johnson pointed out: "The gulf between the deal and the promises made two years ago is unbridgeable."
What followed was not surprising.
May announced it had the support of her whole cabinet. A day later, Dominic Raab, who as Brexit secretary had apparently negotiated the deal, resigned over it.
More ministers followed.
Brexiteers were furious; a customs union meant it would be impossible to engage in free trade deals with other nations. Northern Ireland remained bound to the EU on regulation, Britain to the EU on customs. This was not the freedom they envisaged.
The primary fear was that the backstop was a trap. Without a time limit, Britain could be trapped in it for perpetuity.
Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees Mogg set the wheels in motion for a vote of no-confidence in May as party leader.
On November 25, the EU formally endorsed the deal.
It was doomed. Ahead of the vote in parliament, BuzzFeed News had counted over 100 members of May's own party who said they would not back it, while Labour planned to vote it down.
December 2018: Even more shit hits the fan.
Then the government found itself in contempt of parliament.
Labour decided that Attorney General Geoffrey Cox's advice over the Brexit deal Theresa May recently struck with Brussels should have been published, and used a "humble address" vote to force the government to make it public. The government lost that vote, but it still refused to publish the advice. Cox announced that he would only be releasing a summary, later saying he was "caught in a clash of constitutional principles".
This meant parliament had to vote to decide if he *was* in contempt of court and... he was.
Then the government lost another vote on an amendment tabled by Dominic Grieve MP, which effectively allowed MPs to take control of what happened next if Theresa May's deal didn't get House of Commons backing.
In fact, the government lost a record-breaking three votes in 63 minutes.
Parliament — the legislature — had seized a degree of power from the government, the executive.
There was just time for Theresa May to try to meet with Angela Merkel and get stuck in her car before...
...carnage broke out again.
Broadcasters scrambled to Downing Street with such haste they ended up broadcasting this footage of her adviser.
The reason: 48 or more letters calling for a vote of no confidence had been submitted to the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, giving rise to at least one of the scenarios outlined on what was by now known as the BuzzFeed News Brexit whiteboard of doom.
May won, perhaps due to this significant intervention from a much-loved political figure...
Or, perhaps not.
She survived with the support of less than two-thirds of her MPs, and only after promising to step down before the general election, which was due in 2021.
By this point, it was extremely unclear what the Tory party actually ~wanted~.
May then got into a fight with Jean-Claude Juncker, directed by Alfonso Cuarón.
And the president of Luxembourg became a meme.
January 2019: The first meaningful vote.
In its first meaningful vote on January 15, the deal was voted down. But May did at least set a parliamentary record. The withdrawal agreement was opposed by 432 votes to 202, a historic margin of 230, which surpassed the previous record on a vote set by Ramsay MacDonald’s minority Labour government in 1924, when it lost by 166 votes.
May had thought the fear of a no deal Brexit would focus hearts and minds. It didn't.
The crushing defeat blew up No10's plans for what it could do next. on J
February - April 2019: Full scale Brexit carnage.
In desperation, May offered her Cabinet — and then the entire House of Commons — a chance to delay Brexit if she couldn't win a “meaningful vote” on her deal by mid-March. She didn't want to, but Tory Remainers were gearing up to back an amendment by Yvette Cooper and Oliver Letwin that would have given MPs a vote on delaying Brexit if there was no agreement.
If the Commons rejected her deal on March 12, she would offer MPs a vote on whether to press ahead with a no-deal Brexit the following day. And if the Commons didn't want that, then the next day she'd offer Parliament a chance to extend the Article 50 exit process by up to three months.
And there was no real plan for what came next.
The commons voted to extend the Brexit process up until June 30, 2019.
P.S. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox was still helplessly trying to solve the backstop problem at this time.
May's deal was rejected for a second time, by 391 votes to 242, paving the way for a vote on whether MPs would rule out leaving Europe without a deal.
The government was encouraging people to vote in favour of a motion that said MPs didn't want no-deal to happen, but also wanted to show it was still on the table if the EU messed them around.
Prior to the vote, two MPs, Caroline Spelman and Jack Dromey, had tabled an amendment that was a straight rejection of no-deal under any circumstances; it did not have the caveats of the original motion backed by the government.
In the hours just before the motion, Spelman said she wanted to pull the amendment, and would support the government.
The only problem was that just because she'd tabled it, didn't mean another MP couldn't still move it. Which another MP who was a signatory (Yvette Cooper) duly did.
Cue a mass panic the next day, as the government frantically tried to stop people voting for its own motion, a motion that it in fact didn't really support anyway.
That night, MPs voted on "The Malthouse Compromise", which would see May renegotiate the backstop — the insurance policy to prevent a hard border in Ireland — and replace it with an agreement that used technology to avoid customs checks.
It too didn't pass.
The idea that technology could fix the Irish border problem had been a constant theme for months; Brexiteers had insisted technology could answer the question – but the evidence has always suggested it couldn't at any point in the near future.
Later that month, Speaker John Bercow told May that the deal couldn't be brought back for a third meaningful vote without substantial changes.
Bercow was citing a rule that dates back to 1604 from Erskine May, the guide to parliamentary procedure, in order to block the vote. This riled a lot of MPs.
While there were legitimate questions over the consistency of his approach, some of those criticising him were laying themselves open to charges of hypocrisy themselves.
This left us in the unenviable position of asking for a Brexit extension.
May then gave one of her by-now famous statements outside Number 10, in which she blamed MPs for the fiasco, and failed to acknowledge she should take any share of the blame.
After writing to the EU, the result was this: Article 50 could be extended until May 22, but only if MPs approved the deal. If they didn't, the UK had until April 12 to come up with a new plan.
The deal was eventually brought back, after the political declaration was removed from it, making it different enough to be voted on.
Then May sort-of resigned, saying she'd step down if she got the deal through parliament. This left a number of Tory MPs u-turning. In some cases, not for the first time.
Boris Johnson was among them.
And Dominic Raab.
There were still a few Tory MPs holding out – along with the DUP. The deal was voted down again on March 29, although it lost by a smaller margin than before.
Which meant there was one possibility left.
Earlier in the week, Parliament had effectively seized control of the Brexit process and decided to start holding a series of “indicative” votes on different outcomes, including staying in a customs union, a second referendum, leaving with no deal, and so on.
Surely with every option laid out before them, they could at least settle on one?
By 1 April, it was clear they could not. In fact, it was clear several days earlier, but they'd decided to hold a second round of votes just for the bants.
The jockeying for Conservative leader began.
Things were not going well. All this, on the day Brexit was originally supposed to happen.
Britain had until April 12 to come up with a plan before it crashed out without a deal.
April - July 2019: The end of May and the rise of Johnson.
A day before the no deal deadline, Britain and the EU agreed, after late-night talks, to extend the process by six months – to Oct. 31. Donald Tusk asked us not to waste this time.
A month later, all her Brexit options exhausted, Theresa May announced she would step down. We entered another Tory leadership contest.
It was never really in doubt. The Tory members knew who they wanted. On July 24, Boris Johnson was appointed prime minister.
Given his hardline rhetoric on the EU, many felt a no-deal exit was almost an inevitability.
Views on the need to leave had become so entrenched that even the astounding leak of the Yellowhammer papers – government documents that showed the gaps in contingency planning for a no deal exit suggesting there would be shortages of fuel, food and medicine – didn't worry the Brexiteers.
Aug. 28, 2019: Prorogation.
In one of Johnson's first moves, the Queen was asked by the government to suspend Parliament from Sep. 9, days after MPs return to work, weeks before the deadline.
Recess was extended to Oct. 14, in a bid to leave MPs with just the time between September 2 and September 11, and from Oct. 14, when there would be a new Queen's speech on Oct. 31, to legislate to prevent no deal.
It was controversial. It was about to get very controversial.
September 2019: The crisis deepens.
A Tory MP crossed the floor on Sep. 3, meaning Johnson no longer had a majority.
Next, Johnson said he would seek a general election after he lost control of Parliament in a crushing defeat in his first Commons vote as prime minister. It would see him purge 21 rebel MPs from the Conservative party.
That defeat allowed the Commons to pass the Benn bill — hugely important legislation blocking a no deal exit from the EU. It meant Johnson would be compelled to request another Brexit delay until Jan. 31 if he had not passed a deal or secured approval for no deal from parliament.
Just before the vote, Jacob Rees-Mogg did this, for some reason. He became a huge meme.
The next day, Johnson then failed in his bid to get a general election: Corbyn would not allow it to take place, saying that he feared the prime minister would schedule it for after the Brexit deadline had passed, leading to Britain crashing out with no deal.
And overnight, Brexiteers in the House of Lords abandoned their plans to block the no deal legislation, meaning it was set to receive Royal Assent.
A day later, Johnson's brother Jo, quit the government, saying he was "torn between family loyalty and the national interest".
He was followed by the Remain-backing Work and Pensions secretary Amber Rudd.
Johnson ended the week with no majority, no general election, and a thumbs down from his brother.
The next week, Johnson tried again for a general election. Again, he failed.
Parliament was eventually prorogued, to an almighty protest from speaker John Bercow and opposition MPs.
September 2019: Boris Johnson quite literally misleads the Queen and Britain looks like it's heading for a constitutional crisis.
The inner court of Scotland's highest civil court ruled the prorogation was unlawful. This was rather awkward for Boris Johnson.
We were, if not in a constitutional crisis, not far off.
Government sources suggested the decision would be overturned in the Supreme Court.
Whereupon... on Sept. 24 the Supreme Court also ruled that Boris Johnson's decision to suspend parliament was unlawful.
The impact of this was considered rather seismic, no doubt in large part due to MPs hurriedly returning to the House of Commons — but in terms of Brexit, it was rather more subtle.
It meant MPs had more time to pin down the Benn amendment, and also made it clear the courts were ready to assert the primacy of parliament and the law, should Johnson simply try to ignore it in order to make no deal happen.
October 3 – 29, 2019: Boris uh, gets a deal?
Boris Johnson published his final Brexit proposals.
Now, do you remember the NCP? When last you heard about it, it was getting marmalised by the EU. But it seemed a rehashed version of it was back on the table.
The plans would see Northern Ireland stick to the European Union’s strict regulations on agriculture, food, and all goods, while the rest of the UK could go off and set its own. Northern Ireland would, at the same time, leave the EU's customs territory and tax regime.
No one really thought it was supposed to be the final deal. The plan was clearly supposed to be the opening salvo in a negotiation.
By this point, it felt at times like the Tory party was not far off being radicalised by Brexit.
There didn't seem to be much hope. But suddenly, on Oct. 10, after a meeting with Irish Taoisearch Leo Varadkar, it was suddenly announced that a "pathway to a deal" was visible.
If this was true, there wasn't much time to thrash it out: a crunch EU summit on Oct. 17 and 18 was seen as the last chance for the UK and EU to agree a deal ahead of Oct. 31 deadline. Yet the noises out of Brussels in the days that followed were... not awful, for once.
Oct. 17: Britain and the EU Agree A Deal (Again).
On Oct. 17, Boris Johnson agreed an 11th-hour agreement with the EU ahead of a crunch summit at Brussels.
Building on ideas that had been circulated in the weeks leading up to the meeting, the deal essentially meant there would be a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea.
There was to be a legal customs border between Northern Ireland and Ireland – but the actual checks would take place between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. On goods, Northern Ireland would follow EU rules, necessitating more checks when moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland (but not across the Irish border).
It did, however, mean Johnson had agreed to the thing he had resigned over, and which he said the British government should never allow.
"We could have done this deal in November 2017,” one EU diplomat told the Telegraph, adding: “But we had a prime minister who didn't know what she wanted and British negotiators who kept asking us what to do.”
Oct. 19: Johnson is forced to seek an extension.
Johnson would have to get his deal through parliament, two days later, without the DUP's support. They had rejected it – and given it proposed an Irish sea border and more paperwork for Northern Irish businesses exporting to the UK, that was hardly surprising.
MPs blocked a vote on Johnson's deal after voting for an amendment by Tory remainer Oliver Letwin, which meant parliament would withhold approval of the prime minister’s deal until the withdrawal bill implementing Brexit had been passed.
Johnson was forced to ask for an extension – but the prime minister simultaneously asked EU leaders to hold off from granting the extension so he could try again to pass the new withdrawal agreement before the end of the month. This was breathlessly reported by some lobby reporters as a brilliant strategy. It wasn't.
The amendment meant that the deal couldn't be brought back. The deal would have to be debated using the actual legislation: the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, a dense text of over 100 highly technical pages. On Oct. 22, the House of Commons began to debate a document they'd only seen the night before.
It didn't get very far. A second reading of the bill passed, but then the House of Commons voted 322 to 308 to oppose the government’s controversial programme motion for the bill.
Suddenly the sidelining of the DUP – and some Tory rebels – looked like something of a misstep. It looked like the Oct. 31 deadline, which Johnson had promised would be met, was dead.
The future of the Brexit 50p, which had already had to be delayed once, looked somewhat precarious.
Now Boris Johnson was again pressing for an election, which was somewhat at odds with where he'd been days earlier.
The EU wouldn't decide on whether to give the UK an extension long enough to hold an election until MPs voted for an election, but MPs were unlikely to vote for an election before the EU confirmed an extension. Something of a mess.
Ever since being elected, Johnson promised we'd be out by Oct. 31.
There had even been an official government campaign, which assumed we were leaving on that date.
Despite that brilliant multiple letter strategy, we weren't.
And so the October 31 Brexit 50p coins would have to be melted down.
Oct. 29: Johnson gets his election.
Following an intervention from the Lib Dems and the SNP, Boris Johnson finally got his election at the fourth time of asking. It would happen on Dec. 12. None of the main parties appeared to be particularly ready for it.
Downing Street sources and MPs had informed us there would be civil unrest if Brexit was not delivered by Oct. 31. It was not delivered, and nor was there any civil unrest. Instead, general election campaigning was underway.
It is fair to say that some people were going Brexit crazy by this point.
Dec. 12, 2019: Boris Johnson wins a crushing general election victory.
One simple message won it for Johnson: Get Brexit Done. Evidently, the voters liked the sound of that.
December 2019 – Jan 2020: The Withdrawal Agreement Bill is passed.
More than three and a half years on from the referendum, MPs voted by a majority of 124 to pass Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal. The UK was set to leave the EU on Jan. 31. Johnson confirmed he would not extend the standstill transition period beyond the deadline of Dec. 31 next year if he could not agree a free trade agreement with the EU in that time.
On Jan. 9, it passed its third reading, without a hitch. It was not considered big news: BuzzFeed News' reporter was one of only six who bothered to be in the press gallery.
One of the biggest battles in British political had ended, not with a bang, but a whimper.
On Jan. 23 a hugely significant chapter in British political history ended with a video from a government department that looked like a Chris Morris outtake.
The Brexit 50p was finally happening.
Jan 31, 2020: The End?
And so after three years, one of the biggest crises in British political history is at an end. Except, it isn't.
The errors described above are too numerous to count – but central to them is a refusal to accept reality. Johnson's deal, which includes checks in the Irish sea, is no happy ending. It's a substantial climb down from the vision of Brexit sold to the electorate in 2016. Indeed it's a substantial climb down from the Lancaster House aims stated by May, which he cited in his post-resignation speech.
Similarly, it was blind optimism that caused the early triggering of Article 50, the many months of May believing there was room for manoeuvre with the EU, and her subsequent attempts to tell all sides that a deal which would satisfy them could be struck.
In reality, the only change has been to the parliamentary equation. At the time of writing, we are heading for another cliff edge: This time over a trade deal. Getting it wrong will spell the death of hundreds of businesses. The EU carries tremendous weight for British business because of the size of its markets, and it may well end up that we end up being dictated to after all – or once again staring into the abyss of a no-deal exit.
If this brief history has taught us anything, it's that in Brexit, gravity will eventually catch up with you.