Brexit: MPs approve deal to leave EU on 31 January

SIX members of the United Kingdom Parliament from the opposition Labour Party voted with Boris Johnson’s Conservatives on Friday to give the Prime Minister’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement Bill a second reading, paving the way for the country to leave the European Union on 31 January 2020.

Sarah Champion, Rosie Cooper, Jon Cruddas, Emma Lewell-Buck, Grahame Morris and Toby Perkins all defied a three-line whip – the strongest possible order from party grandees – to vote with the government instead of their own party, despite provisions in the renewed legislation stripping out procedural protections of workers’ rights.

Johnson easily cleared his first hurdle in the House of Commons on Friday, having won his Conservative Party a large parliamentary majority in the 12 December general election.

A majority of 124 MPs voted for a second reading – 358 for, compared with 234 against. There were no rebels among Conservative ranks, though ten Tory MPs abstained from voting. No fewer than 32 Labour MPs abstained from voting.

Previous attempts to pass a Brexit deal had failed because of strong opposition in parliament.

Johnson repeatedly promised to deliver Brexit by 31 January in his election campaign. Getting “the Brexit vote wrapped up for Christmas” was his main aim.

“This is the time when we move on and discard the old labels of ‘leave’ and ‘remain’ now is the time to act together as one reinvigorated nation, one United Kingdom,” Johnson told parliament before the vote.

“Now is the moment to come together and write a new and exciting chapter in our national story, to forge a new partnership with our European friends, to stand tall in the world, to begin the healing for which the whole people of this country yearn.”

The final stages of ratification will take place after Christmas, with the lower house of parliament having until 9 January to approve the bill, giving it just more than three weeks to then pass through the upper house and receive Royal Assent.

Since his victory, officials have said Johnson will legislate to prevent any extension of the Brexit transition period beyond 2020 – comments that upset EU leaders who warned that striking a trade deal in just 11 months would be near impossible.

The development weakened the pound, which had received a boost after the general election result, as analysts said the prospect of a no-deal Brexit was back on the table.

Assuming the European Parliament also gives the green light, the UK will formally leave the EU on 31 January with a withdrawal deal – and it will then go into a transition period that is scheduled to end on 31 December 2020.

During this period the UK will effectively remain in the EU’s customs union and single market – but will be outside the political institutions and there will be no British members of the European Parliament.