Boris Johnson’s Brexit bill one step away from being finalised after completing passage through parliament

Hard-fought EU withdrawal legislation now needs only royal assent to become law, clearing path for Brexit on 31 January

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Wednesday 22 January 2020 18:51 GMT
Brexit Bill completes passage through parliament

Legislation to take the UK out of the European Union on 31 January will be ratified within days, after Boris Johnson’s Brexit bill completed the final stages of its passage through parliament on Wednesday evening.

The Withdrawal Agreement Bill now requires only Royal Assent from the Queen to become law, allowing the prime minister finally to sign the Brexit deal which he struck with Brussels in October.

The European Parliament is expected to add its ratification on 29 January, allowing an orderly end to the UK’s 47-year membership of the continental bloc at 11pm on Friday next week.

Labour's Brexit spokeswoman Thangam Debbonaire described the bill's passage as "a very sad day" but Mr Johnson said it provided an opportunity to move on from the "rancour and division" caused by the Brexit process.

The PM is expected to sign the withdrawal agreement in the UK within the coming days, while European Council president Charles Michel and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen will sign in Brussels on Friday. Once legal processes are completed, foreign secreary Dominic Raab will sign an instrument of ratification to be deposited in Brussels.

Under the terms of Mr Johnson’s deal, the UK will pay around £30 billion to the EU in settlement of its liabilities, guarantee the rights of Europeans living in Britain, create a customs border down the Irish Sea and lose all representation on the bloc’s decision-making bodies. But it will remain subject to EU rules during a transition period lasting until the end of 2020, while negotiations take place on a future partnership in areas like trade and security.

Formal withdrawal from the EU will take place next Friday despite opinion polls over more than two years - including a BMG survey for The Independent less than two weeks ago - consistently finding that a majority of voters want to remain, and despite a majority in last month's general election backing parties seeking a Final Say referendum.

The completion of the Bill’s parliamentary stages came after peers opted not to challenge Mr Johnson’s defeat of five amendments to the legislation approved by the House of Lords earlier this week - including protections for the family reunion rights of unaccompanied child migrants after Brexit.

Welcoming the breakthrough, Mr Johnson said: “Parliament has passed the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, meaning we will leave the EU on 31 January and move forwards as one United Kingdom.

“At times it felt like we would never cross the Brexit finish line, but we’ve done it.

“Now we can put the rancour and division of the past three years behind us and focus on delivering a bright, exciting future – with better hospitals and schools, safer streets and opportunity spread to every corner of our country.”

The defeat of the so-called Dubs Amendment - named after its author Lord Dubs, a wartime child refugee from the Nazis - was condemned by charities including Save the Children, who said it “puts some of the world’s most vulnerable and desperate children at even greater risk of harm”.

Mr Johnson's bill completed its parliamentary stages after just 11 days of scrutiny in the two houses, securing a 99-vote majority at third reading in the Commons earlier this month.

Its smooth passage came after a tortuous year-long wrangle at Westminster as Theresa May's version of the agreement was voted down three times, once by a historic record margin of 230 votes.

The stalemate eventually forced her resignation last July and was broken only by last month's general election, in which Mr Johnson secured an 80-seat majority, assuring him of victory in future Commons divisions and dashing remaining hopes of a confirmatory Final Say referendum on his deal.

The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill being carried between the two Houses of Parliament by the Clerk of Legislation Liam Lawrence Smyth (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

Labour's shadow deputy leader in the Lords, Baroness Hayter, said that peers' changes to the bill had been swept aside by MPs in just 60 minutes.

"Number 10 has decided not to listen, whether it is to the devolved authorities, to experienced judges and senior official post-holders or to experienced members of your lordships' house," she said. "If this is to be the pattern of this administration... then I fear we are in for an unfortunate time."

As the bill left the Lords, Tory peer Patrick Cormack issued a plea for all sides of the debate to "now jettison the words, 'Brexit', 'Remain' and 'Leave'."

He told peers: "Wherever we stood in the past, we are now moving forward. Let's now try to have some unity and some real healing across both Houses."

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