UK parliament approves historic Brexit deal

Saleha Riaz
·4-min read

Watch: The House of Commons passes Johnson's Brexit Deal

MPs voted with overwhelming majority on Wednesday to approve ‘the European Union (Future Relationship) Bill,’ which enables the UK government to implement and ratify the historic post-Brexit trade deal agreed last week with the EU.

The bill approving the trade and cooperation agreement with the EU was passed at second and third reading by 521 votes to 73, a majority of 448.

Parliament was in recess for Christmas but was recalled so that MPs could debate and vote on the bill. Once they are done, peers will debate the bill in the Lords. After the bill is passed by the Lords, it will receive royal assent late on Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.

Last week UK prime minister Boris Johnson called the agreement a “jumbo Canada-style” deal that would preserve £660bn ($895bn) of cross-border trade while allowing Britain to strike deals elsewhere, set its own rules and catch more fish in UK waters.

Earlier on Wednesday, addressing parliament ahead of the vote, Johnson said: “Having taken back control of our money, our borders, our laws and our waters... we now seize the moment to forge a fantastic new relationship with our European neighbours, based on free trade and friendly co-operation.

UK PM Boris Johnson said 'we now seize the moment to forge a fantastic new relationship with our European neighbours, based on free trade and friendly co-operation.' Photo: Getty Images
UK PM Boris Johnson said 'we now seize the moment to forge a fantastic new relationship with our European neighbours, based on free trade and friendly co-operation.' Photo: Getty Images

READ MORE: EU chiefs sign post-Brexit UK trade deal

“In less than 48 hours, we will leave the EU single market and the customs union, as we promised and yet British exporters will not face a sudden thicket of trade barriers, but rather, for the first time in the history of EU agreements, zero tariffs and zero quotas.”

Eurosceptics, such as veteran Conservative Bill Cash, claimed Johnson had ended the Brexit saga and “saved our democracy.”

“Our prime minister, a great classicist, like his hero Pericles, is the first citizen of his country, and like him has saved our democracy. Like Alexander the Great, Boris has cut the Gordian Knot,” said Cash.

“Churchill and Margaret Thatcher would have been deeply proud of his achievements, and so are we.”

Meanwhile, Labour MP Helen Hayes says she has resigned as a shadow Cabinet Office minister because she could not vote in favour of the bill.

“I can't vote for this damaging deal and have abstained today. With much sadness and regret I've offered my resignation as Shadow Cabinet Office Minister. It's been a privilege to serve,” she said on Twitter.

The deal comes more than four years after the UK voted to leave the EU in June 2016, and a year after a transition deal was struck preserving much of the status quo this year.

Negotiations have been held up for months on three issues: fisheries, ‘level playing field’ agreements to prevent unfair subsidies, and the enforcement mechanism of any deal.

Watch: Why fishing was such a thorny issue in Brexit negotiations

The agreement must still be approved by EU member states before it can take effect, with provisional EU approval expected before EU’s parliament votes in the New Year.

Many in the car industry and hospitality sector, as well as small businesses, were relieved that a deal had been agreed on.

Federation of Small Businesses national chairman Mike Cherry said: “After such a torrid year, and during such a disrupted festive trading season, it’s a huge relief to see negotiators finally strike a deal.”

He added that “the work of looking through the detail of the agreement to map out exactly what it means for the small firms that make-up 99% of our business community now begins.”

There has been criticism of the deal though, particularly because it does not deal with financial services, although it had been decided earlier that matters of finance would be dealt with separately at a later stage.

UK banks had hoped they would get to keep their full ‘passporting’ rights post-Brexit, which means access to EU customers could continue unhindered, but this was not to be.

The Economist explained that “the best they can now hope for is ‘equivalence’, a poor cousin of passporting that permits access if both sides declare that the other’s regulatory framework in a particular area of finance is close enough to be ‘equivalent’.”

It added that one drawback of this is that access is “somewhat fettered, equivalence is only possible in certain financial sectors, and it can be revoked (at least by the EU) with 30 days’ notice.”

Watch: 10 ways to Brexit proof your finances