Brexit by January 31 as House of Commons passes bill
As promised by Prime Minister Boris Johnson during the recent election, the United Kingdom is set to leave the European Union on January 31 after the House of Commons on Friday passed the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) by 358 votes to 234.
The bill’s passage marks a key stage to complete parliamentary processes in time for the deadline of January 31. The bill turns the withdrawal agreement, which is a draft international treaty reached by the previous Johnson government with Brussels in October, into UK law.
On January 31, the UK will cease to be an EU member, but in practice it will continue in the EU customs union, the single market and obey EU rules until the end of the transition period ending December 31, 2020. It will no longer be represented in the EU parliament or council of ministers.
The challenge will then be to reach a trade agreement with the EU by December 31, 2020. Johnson insists the agreement is possible in 11 months, while critics and others believe the history of reaching international trade deals goes against such optimism.
The government has the option before July 1 to ask Brussels for an extension of the transition period beyond December 31, 2020 for one or two years, but the government has insisted it would not do so, raising concerns of a no-deal Brexit at the end of the transition.
An upbeat Johnson sought to unite the house that was bitterly divided since the 2016 EU referendum, which made it impossible for former prime minister Theresa May to get the agreement bill passed on three occasions.
Johnson told MPs: “Now is the moment - as we leave the European Union - to reunite our country…Because this Bill, and this juncture in our national story, Mr Speaker must not be seen as a victory for one party or one faction over another”.
“This is the time when we move on and discard the old labels of leave and remain…It will be over. The sorry story of the last three and a half years will be at an end and we will be able to move forward Mr Speaker together.”
However, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn declared that his party continued to oppose the bill: “This deal is a roadmap for the reckless direction in which the government and the Prime Minister are determined to take our country”.
“They have done their utmost to hide its likely impact and continue to use gimmicks and slogans to turn attention away from their real intentions…The prime minister may believe that fuelling division and confrontation has helped him realise his personal political ambition. But it’s no way to heal the deep divisions in our society or find the common ground we need to move beyond Brexit”.