‘Brexit finish line’ crossed as British parliament passes EU Withdrawal bill
23 January 2020, 11:35
Britain’s parliament has passed the legislation necessary to take it out of the European Union next week after House of Lords abandoned attempts to amend it.
The upper chamber approved the Brexit bill after the House of Commons overturned changes made by the Lords a day earlier.
Barring the formality of royal assent, this completes the legal steps to put the negotiated divorce deal into effect in the UK.
Securing the bill was never in doubt following the Conservatives’ resounding election victory in December. But it was nonetheless a highly symbolic moment, especially in the wake of last year’ parliamentary paralysis that saw former Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal repeatedly rejected by MPs.
Also deprived of a majority, her successor hit obstacles too in the House of Commons until the game-changing election. On Wednesday Boris Johnson reacted with relief.
“At times it felt like we would never cross the Brexit finish line, but we’ve done it,” he said.
The divorce agreement renegotiated by Johnson’s government with Brussels, and approved by EU national leaders, also needs to be ratified by the European Parliament. MEPs are due to debate and vote on the deal next week (January 29) and are expected to pass it.
Wednesday saw the House of Commons overturn all the changes the unelected Lords made earlier to the Brexit bill. Peers had altered government plans in a move to boost citizens’ rights – those of EU nationals living in the UK and Britons on the continent – protect the power of UK courts relative to EU law, and ensure a say for Scotland and Wales in post-Brexit legislation.
MPs also removed an amendment made by the Lords to force the British government to let unaccompanied migrant children in EU countries join relatives living in the UK.
Johnson’s government says it intends to continue resettling child migrants in Britain after Brexit. But argues the issue does not belong in the EU withdrawal bill – which deals with the terms of the UK’s departure – but should be negotiated subsequently.
The UK is due to leave the EU on January 31. Once passed, the terms of the withdrawal deal – on the UK’s financial obligations, citizens’ rights, and arrangements for Northern Ireland – will have the force of an international treaty.
A post-Brexit transition phase will then kick in, keeping arrangements largely the same until it expires at the end of 2020. During this time the UK and the EU will embark on negotiations on future relations, with only a few months to strike new relationships for trade, security and several other areas.