Referendum

May's British Conservative Party has long been split between those in favour of EU membership and those who want out. To settle the question, former Prime Minister David Cameron called for a nationwide vote on whether Britain should stay or go. On June 23, 2016, 52 per cent of voters said they wanted to leave.

Negotiations
The unexpected outcome threw the country into chaos, with Cameron resigning and the value of the pound tumbling 15 per cent in a day. May eventually took over as Prime Minister. In March last year, she submitted the formal notice of Britain's intent to withdraw from the EU. The action started a two-year countdown and negotiations on the terms of the exit and for future EU-United Kingdom relations. In a bid to solidify her power and the stated goal of ensuring a "strong and stable" government would be seated at the Brexit negotiations, May called a general election for June last year. The move backfired, and her Conservatives lost their majority in Parliament. She had to create a minority government with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland.

Irish question
The talks on a Brexit deal remained stalled for months, largely over the problem of the future border between the UK's Northern Ireland and the EU's Republic of Ireland. The fear was that reinstalling a hard border with import duties and travel restrictions would renew sectarian violence. The EU insisted that Britain should not be allowed to enjoy the fruits of staying in its seamless trading union. So it proposed allowing Northern Ireland to remain in the customs union, but not the rest of Britain. May's Government rejected that, saying it threatened to break up Britain.

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The deal
British and EU officials intensified their efforts and reached a draft deal on Wednesday. The agreement envisions Britain leaving the EU as planned on March 29 but remaining inside the bloc's single market and bound by its rules until the end of December 2020. That would buy time to work out a permanent post-Brexit trading relationship. Other terms call for Britain paying £39 billion ($73b) to settle outstanding obligations to the EU.

Political backlash
Many pro-Brexit politicians immediately slammed the deal. Two Cabinet ministers and five junior government members resigned on Thursday and a leading pro-Brexit lawmaker called for a no-confidence vote on May.

No-deal risks
If Parliament rejects the draft deal, the more likely it is that Brexit happens without any agreement spelling out future relations with the EU. Businesses and most economists view that as a worst-case scenario for Britain.

- AP