World / UK MPs approve Brexit trade deal by 521 votes to 73

Zoom News : Dec 31, 2020, 09:01 AM
London: Boris Johnson’s Brexit trade deal with Brussels has cleared the House of Commons as the government attempts to rush through complex legislation in just 14 hours.

The prime minister described the historic deal as “not a rupture but a resolution”, before MPs voted through the European Union (future relationship) bill by 521 votes to 73 – a majority of 448.

It meant the bill continued to the House of Lords and is expected to be given royal assent shortly before midnight.

That would pave the way for the deal to take effect at 11pm on Thursday when the Brexit transition period ends.

Parliament was recalled for an emergency one-day session to approve the EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement, concluded by Johnson and the European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, on Christmas Eve.

Conservative, Labour and the Scottish National party MPs criticised the government for allowing for so little time for parliamentary scrutiny of the bill.

Johnson opened the debate on the UK’s post-Brexit trade deal with the EU shortly after 10am on Wednesday.

Johnson’s deal passed with ease with Labour’s support though the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) voted against it.

The prime minister told MPs the deal would redefine the UK’s relationship with the EU. “We now seize this moment to forge a fantastic new relationship with our European neighbours, based on free trade and friendly cooperation,” he said.

“We have done this in less than a year, in the teeth of a pandemic, and we have pressed ahead with this task, resisting all calls for delay, precisely because creating certainty about our future provides the best chance of beating Covid and bouncing back even more strongly next year.”

Most Conservative Eurosceptic MPs were jubilant. Sir Bill Cash, who founded the Maastricht Referendum Campaign in the early 1990s, said: “Like Alexander the Great, Boris has cut the Gordian Knot.”

Mark Francois, one of the self-styled Spartans who held out against Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal agreement, told fellow Eurosceptics they could now “lower our spears”.

Labour backed the deal, despite misgivings from 37 MPs who defied the party whip to abstain or vote against it.

Keir Starmer, the party’s leader, described the deal as “thin”, but told the Commons that Labour would back it because the alternative would be devastating for the UK.

“It’s often said there’s nothing simple about Brexit, but the choice before the house today is perfectly simple,” he said. “Do we implement the treaty that has been agreed with the EU or do we not?

“That is the choice. If we choose not to, the outcome is clear. We leave the transition period without a deal, without a deal on security, on trade, on fisheries, without protection for our manufacturing sector, for farming, for countless British businesses and without a foothold to build a future relationship with the EU.

“Anyone choosing that option today knows there is no time to renegotiate.”

Three junior shadow ministers – Helen Hayes, Tonia Antoniazzi and Florence Eshalomi – resigned from their posts after abstaining over the bill. Bell Ribeiro-Addy, the Labour MP for Streatham, voted against the agreement.

The trade and cooperation agreement with the EU runs to more than 1,200 pages. The bill is 80 pages.

The Hansard Society, the leading procedural thinktank, published a blog by its senior researcher, Brigid Fowler, describing the process as “a farce”.

The Conservative former Brexit secretary David Davis said the agreement left “issues to deal with” including Northern Ireland, fishing and Gibraltar. He told the Commons: “It’s not over. All will lead to uncomfortable decisions in the near future.”

Davis said one day was not enough time to deal with a 1,200-page treaty and further time must be given to it to enable the UK to develop its strategy.

“The EU will use the treaty to its own advantage … We have to come back to this treaty and look at it in detail at all 1,200 pages so we don’t get into conflict, don’t fall into traps, don’t get into acrimonious disputes with them [the EU],” he said.

Almost all Tory MPs approved the agreement, although former cabinet ministers Owen Paterson and John Redwood abstained. Paterson, a former Northern Ireland secretary, said he was “very torn” over the deal because the region was divided from the rest of the UK.

“I’d love to vote for this today but I really can’t vote for a measure which actually divides the UK as a different regime on tax as part of the customs union that’ll be under the ECJ, single market etc,” he said.

Opposition to the bill from the SNP and the DUP appeared to be a sign that Brexit has increased tensions over the union.

Ian Blackford, the leader of the SNP in Westminster, said many Scots would prefer to live in the EU than in a “broken Brexit Britain”.

Earlier in the day, the European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, and the European council president, Charles Michel, formally signed the agreement.

Following a brief ceremony in Brussels, the leather-bound documents were then flown to London by the RAF to be signed by Johnson.