Johnson’s Brexit deal clears Parliament with only hours to spare

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(Bloomberg) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit trade deal got the approval of the British Parliament just 24 hours before the country’s final split from the European Union.

The House of Lords gave the deal the green light on Wednesday evening, just a day before the UK left the EU’s single market when the Brexit transition period expired.

Previously, members of the House of Commons passed the bill which turns the treaty into UK law by a large majority.

The rush to get the deal through Parliament in one day ends a four-year saga that has gripped British politics. Since the referendum vote in June 2016, Brexit unrest has forced two prime ministers to resign, disrupted markets and seen the country’s relationship with its biggest trading partner radically redefined.

It gives Johnson a national victory as he faces a resurgent coronavirus which has already inflicted the deepest recession in more than 300 years and now threatens to overwhelm the country’s national health service.

It also removes the threat of a chaotic final split with the EU when the UK leaves the single market and the EU’s customs union at 11pm. the 31st of December.

The deal will allow for zero-tariff, quota-free trade in goods between Britain and the EU – but very limited provisions for service companies, which make up 80% of the UK economy. Businesses will also face additional costs in the form of new red tape and the threat of border disruption.

The deal – reached late on Christmas Eve – was signed on Wednesday by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel, before being flown to London to be signed by Johnson.

Opening the debate in the Commons, the Prime Minister said the deal will allow Britain to “trade and cooperate” with other European countries, while retaining “sovereign control over our laws and our destiny”.

‘New Chapter’

“We are going to open a new chapter in our national history,” he said. “It is now incumbent upon all of us to make the best use of the powers we have recovered.”

After five hours of debate, the House of Commons voted to pass the bill by 521 votes to 73.

The PM not only won the support of a prominent group of hardline Brexiters from his Conservative Party, but he was also helped by the main opposition Labor Party, which backed the bill.

“We only have one day before the end of the transition period, and this is the only deal we have,” Labor leader Keir Starmer said. “At the end of the day, voting to implement this treaty is the only way to ensure that we avoid no deal.”

The Scottish National Party attacked the deal, saying it would harm Scotland’s fishing industry, and told Johnson it would strengthen the case for independence.

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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