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Boris Johnson's Withdrawal Agreement is expected to easily pass its second reading in the House of Commons. Frank Augstein/AP/Press Association Images
Withdrawal Agreement

Changed utterly: Boris Johnson's big majority sees Brexit bill sail through Commons by 124 votes

The House of Commons now breaks for Christmas with Brexit on course for 31 January.

LAST UPDATE | 20 Dec 2019

UK PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson’s Brexit Withdrawal Bill has passed the House of Commons, setting a timeline for the UK’s exit from the EU next month. 

The second reading of the bill was passed with a majority of 124, 358 votes to 234, demonstrating the changed parliamentary circumstances following Johnson’s landslide general election victory last week. 

Johnson’s previous efforts at passing his deal were frustrated by the numbers in parliament and his predecessor Theresa May also failed to pass a Withdrawal Agreement. 

Parliament will now break for Christmas and the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill will return to the House of Commons to be debated between 7-9 January. 

The bill will then move to the House of Lords for approval before receiving Royal Assent. This successful passage of the bill would pave the way for Brexit on 31 January. 

Speaking as the House of Commons began debating the bill earlier this morning, Johnson said that the UK should “move on” and discard the Brexit “labels” of Leave and Remain.

Instead, Johnson said the county needed to “move forward and speak together”. / YouTube

Johnson was speaking as the House of Commons began a debate on the bill.

In last week’s election, the Conservative party secured a landslide win and now commands an 80-seat majority in parliament. 

Introducing the bill, Johnson said it was time to move on from the Brexit debate. 

“Now is the moment as we leave European Union to reunite our country and allow the warmth and natural affection that we all share for our European neighbours to find renewed expression in one great new national project of building a deep, special and democratically accountable partnership with those nations we are proud to call our closest friends,” he said. 

The UK Prime Minister compared the rivalries implicit in the Brexit debate to Gulliver’s Travels and Romeo and Juliet.

“Because this bill and this juncture in our national story, Mr. Speaker must not be seen as a victory for one party over another or one faction over another,” he said. 

This is the time when we move on and discard the old labels of Leave and Remain, the very words seem tired to me as, as defunct as Big Enders and Little Enders or Montagues and Capulets at the end of the play. Now is the time to act together as one reinvigorated nation one United Kingdom, filled with renewed confidence in our national destiny and determined to take advantage of the opportunities that lie before us.

“The bill ensures that the implementation period must end on the 31st of December next year with no possibility of an extension,” Johnson added. 

Johnson’s ruling out of an extension to the Brexit transition period has led to some surprise in Brussels with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier among those expressing skepticism that a trade deal can be agreed before the period ends. 

It raises the prospect of a no-deal break occurring at the end of 2020. 

Focusing on what Labour says is its concerns with the bill, party leader Jeremy Corbyn said earlier today that it represents “a terrible deal”. 

“We warned before the general election, the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal was a terrible deal for our country. And we still believe it’s a terrible deal today.  It will not protect or strengthen our rights or support our manufacturing industry, or our vital trading relationships or protect our natural world in a time of unprecedented climate crisis,” Corbyn said. 

Neither will it address the deep inequality in our system or secure the interests of every nation and region in the United Kingdom. Instead, under the Conservatives, this deal will be used as a battering ram to drive us down the path of yet more deregulation and towards a toxic deal with Donald Trump that will sell out on National Health Service and push up the price of medicines to benefit US drug companies. 

In recent days, Boris Johnson has faced accusations he had “binned” his withdrawal deal compromises in favour of a hard Brexit as MPs prepare to vote on his exit terms.

Critics on the opposition benches said Johnson had “binned” his pre-election compromises on protections for workers and child refugees now that he had been “unbridled” by his crushing win at the polls.

The government, as part of a re-drafted Brexit Bill, looked to have rowed back on an original commitment to strike a deal with the EU so child refugees in Europe can continue to be reunited with their families in the UK, even after free movement ends.

Clause 37 of the Bill replaces the pledge with a watered-down vow for ministers to “make a statement” on the progress of the talks once the divorce with Brussels is complete.

Keir Starmer, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, told the Guardian: “The Tories have torn-up the protections for workers’ rights and child refugees – and watered-down Parliament’s role in the next phase of the Brexit negotiations.”

“It was a bad Bill before the election, and it is even worse now,” Starmer said. 

A host of other changes were made to the Brexit Bill since it was last before the Commons in October.

Johnson has inserted a clause that will legally prohibit his government from extending the transition period – the 11-month buffer during which his team will look to negotiate a trade deal with Brussels – beyond 2020.

The legal text will also boost the power of UK courts, giving judges the ability to overrule judgments made by the European Court of Justice.

If passed by MPs, the Brexit Bill will return for its final stages in both the Commons and the House of Lords in the New Year before achieving Royal Assent.

The timetable paves the way for the UK to leave the EU by the 31 January deadline and for trade talks to commence.

- With reporting by Press Association 

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