Saturday, December 4, 2021
Dec. 4, 2021

Linkedin Pinterest

Lawmakers OK Brexit bill; U.K. on course to leave

Country on track to depart from trade bloc on Jan. 31

By
Published:
2 Photos
EU Chief Negotiator on Brexit Michael Barnier waves to the media as he arrives for a meeting with Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in 10 Downing Street in London, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020.
EU Chief Negotiator on Brexit Michael Barnier waves to the media as he arrives for a meeting with Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in 10 Downing Street in London, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham) Photo Gallery

LONDON — Britain passed a long-elusive milestone on the road to Brexit on Thursday when the House of Commons approved a bill authorizing the country’s departure from the European Union at the end of the month.

Lawmakers voted by 330-231 to pass the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which sets the terms of Britain’s departure from the 28-nation bloc. The comfortable majority won by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in an election last month secured the bill’s passage despite the opposition of smaller parties.

The bill was approved after three days of debate that brought none of the frayed tempers, late-night sessions and knife-edge votes that marked previous rounds of Brexit wrangling over the past year.

After passing through Parliament’s unelected House of Lords — which can delay but not overturn the result in the Commons — the bill should become law in time for the U.K. to leave the EU on the scheduled date of Jan. 31 and become the first nation ever to quit the bloc.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said he welcomed the “constructive scrutiny” of the Lords but hoped the upper house would not try to delay the bill.

“I have no doubt that their lordships will have heard the resounding message from the British people on the 12th of December,” he said.

Thursday’s vote was a major victory for Johnson, who has made delivering Brexit the key aim of his premiership. Britain voted narrowly to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum. But before the Dec. 12 election, lawmakers repeatedly defeated attempts by both Johnson and his predecessor, Theresa May, to secure backing for their Brexit blueprints.

Conservative lawmakers cheered when the result of the vote was announced. But Ian Blackford of the Scottish National Party said Scotland — which voted to remain in the EU in 2016 — must now be granted a referendum on independence. Johnson has said that won’t happen.

“This is a constitutional crisis, because we will not and we cannot accept what is being done to us,” Blackford said.

Despite Johnson’s repeated promise to “get Brexit done” on Jan. 31, the departure will only mark the start of the first stage of the country’s EU exit. Britain and the EU will then launch into negotiations on their future relationship, racing to strike new relationships for trade, security and a host of other areas by the end of 2020.

“Leaving the EU doesn’t mean that we will have got Brexit done,” said Paul Blomfield, a Brexit spokesman for the main opposition Labour Party. “We’ll have completed the first step, departure, but the difficult stage is yet to come.”

Top officials in the bloc are already saying that sealing a new deal will be tough.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said Thursday that Britain’s goal of striking a full free trade agreement by the end-of-year deadline that Johnson insists on was unrealistic.

“We cannot expect to agree on every aspect of this new partnership,” Barnier said, adding “we are ready to do our best in the 11 months.”

Loading...