UK on track to leave EU as it crosses ‘Brexit finish line’

Johnson gambled in calling an election last month. (AFP pic)

LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal cleared its final hurdles in Parliament, bringing the crisis that paralysed UK politics since the country voted to leave the European Union almost four years ago to a close.

The passage of the law vindicates Johnson’s gamble to call an election last month in which he asked voters to back his blueprint for leaving the bloc on Jan 31.

His 80-seat majority in the elected House of Commons meant he could sweep aside objections from pro-EU politicians in the upper chamber of Parliament, the Lords, and break the deadlock that cost his predecessor, Theresa May, her job last year.

“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,” Johnson said, according to an emailed statement.

Later Wednesday, members of the unelected House of Lords formally dropped their opposition and accepted the legislation as approved by the Commons.

The bill will now go to Queen Elizabeth II who will sign it into law, putting Britain on track to leave the EU in eight days’ time.

The agreement with the EU will now need to be formally ratified by the European Parliament on Jan 29, before the UK leaves the bloc at the end of the month.

Britain will then enter a transition period, scheduled to last until the end of the year, during which it will continue to be bound by EU laws until it negotiates a new trade deal with the remaining 27 member states.

Johnson is expected to sign the agreement in the coming days, and the European Council and Commission presidents may sign it Friday in Brussels, according to a UK government official.

“We’re in a very happy position in that we leave the EU in a position of absolute grace and uniformity,” Johnson said as he answered questions from the public about the future negotiations with Brussels on Facebook.

“We are in perfect alignment with our EU friends and partners.”

Looking ahead, Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid acknowledged Johnson’s Dec 31 deadline for reaching a new trade deal with the EU was “tight”.

“Both sides recognise that it’s a tight timetable, a lot needs to be put together in the time that we have, but it can be done,” Javid said during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“And it can be done for both goods, where we want to see free trade, zero tariffs, zero quotas – but also on services.”

The House of Lords had tried to amend the Brexit legislation to enhance EU citizens’ rights in Britain, allow judges – rather than ministers – to decide on the use of rulings by European Courts, and to ensure unaccompanied refugee children can join family in the UK.

All the measures were rejected by the Commons. Johnson’s government rejected these changes and pushed the Lords to back down.