A Guide to the Year’s Biggest Divorce

What you need to know about Brexit but were afraid to ask.

The U.K. and the European Union’s divorce proceedings will begin this year, ending a four-decade relationship.

So how did we get here, and what comes next? British voters demanded the breakup in a June 2016 referendum, but without a blueprint of how to unwind the relationship. 

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May set a self-imposed deadline of March 31 to formally serve notice to the EU, after which the two sides are supposed to have two years to come to a settlement. But that could drag on, even stretching into the next decade.

May hasn’t given specifics of what she wants to achieve, but she has sent signals that her priorities are regaining control of immigration, getting out from the jurisdiction of European courts, and cutting back or eliminating money paid to Brussels. She may even be willing to give up access to the bloc’s single market for goods and services.

On the other side of the fight, EU leaders have warned May that she won’t be able to “cherry pick” the best perks of membership—such as tariff-free trade—without accepting the bits she doesn’t like, such as allowing EU citizens to work and live in any country that’s a member of the club.

In a sign the government knows just what it's up against, Brexit Secretary David Davis has described the talks the most “complicated negotiation of all time.”


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