The legislation enables the UK’s exit from the EU on January 31.
The House of Commons voted in favour of Boris Johnson’s amended Brexit bill, bringing the U.K. one step closer to leaving the EU by January 31.
In a vote Friday, MPs voted 358 to 234 in favour of the legislation, which implements the Brexit deal agreed with the EU into British domestic law.
Johnson urged parliament to come together and not consider the Withdrawal Agreement Bill as a victory for only one side of the debate. “This is the time when we move on and discard the old labels of Leave and Remain. In fact, the very words seem tired to me — as defunct as Big-enders and Little-enders, or Montagues and Capulets at the end of the play [references to “Gulliver’s Travels” and “Romeo and Juliet”].”
“Now is the time to act together as one reinvigorated nation, one United Kingdom, filled with renewed confidence in our national destiny and determined at least to take advantage of the opportunities that now lie before us.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn agreed it was time to stop debating the outcome of the Brexit referendum and “move on,” following the Conservatives’ landslide victory in the December 12 general election. But he opposed the bill, accusing Johnson of having “ripped up” commitments made by his predecessor Theresa May.
As expected, the bill outlaws extending the Brexit transition period beyond the end of 2020, although Johnson would be able to pass further legislation extending the transition if he wished so. Speaking in the Commons on Friday, Johnson compared lengthening this period with the eternal torture of the Greek hero Prometheus.
Known for his love for classical history and specifically for Greek mythology, Johnson analysed the story of Prometheus during his speech, comparing it to the crisis the UK is experiencing due to its unsuccessful attempts to exit the European Union.
Johnson compared those who oppose Brexit and want the UK to remain inside the EU to Zeus because they torture those who voted to leave in the same way that Zeus tortured Prometheus.
“There would be nothing more dangerous for the new future that we want to build than allowing the permanent possibility of extending the implementation period in a torture that came to resemble Lucy snatching away Charlie Brown’s football or Prometheus chained to the Tartarian crag, his liver pecked out by an eagle and then growing back only to be pecked out again in the cycle repeated forever,” he said.
As expected, the bill outlaws extending the Brexit transition period beyond the end of 2020
Chief among the changes is the removal of an entire section on parliament’s role in the negotiations with the EU. Under the previous iterations of the bill, the government was required to seek approval of its negotiating objectives from parliament; had to report to the Commons every three months; and would have had to seek MPs’ approval for the U.K.-EU future relationship treaty.
Only ministers will now be able to act as U.K. co-chair of the Joint Committee that will oversee the implementation of the Brexit deal. Under the previous versions of the bill, senior government officials were entitled to play such a role.
The opposition slammed these changes, saying they are designed to prevent MPs from scrutinising the government in the second phase of the negotiations. Remain-supporting Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said Johnson’s deal is “essentially an executive power-grab, completely deleting all of the provisions that would have allowed parliamentary scrutiny.”
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay rejected the accusation, saying the Commons European Select Committee would be able to trigger debates should the EU pass any legislation during the transition period. “There will be parliamentary scrutiny. And of course, as we saw in the last parliament, parliament through the select committees, through debates in the house, will always have a scrutiny role in these things,” he told Sky News.
Corbyn hit back
Corbyn hit back, saying Johnson had effectively inserted into the legislation his threat of a no trade-deal with the EU at the end of 2020. “He is now deliberately resurrecting the threat of no deal at the end of next year, which would decimate industry and destroy people’s jobs. That threat is now written in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill,” he said.
Johnson’s new Brexit bill also scraps May’s commitment to maintaining workers’ rights at the level of the EU, with the government due to present a separate employment bill in the coming months. It also waters down protections for unaccompanied children making asylum applications.
Addressing these changes, the prime minister said the Commons “should never doubt its ability to pioneer standards for the fourth industrial revolution, just as we did the first,” and stressed the government remains “absolutely committed” to ensure the U.K. continues to receive unaccompanied children.
The new bill also allows lower courts to depart from pre-Brexit judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union.
The bill will continue its passage through the Commons on January 8 and 9, before being discussed in the House of Lords.