‘Bat­tle to stop Brexit is over’ as law­mak­ers OK ini­tial bill

Orlando Sentinel - - NATION & WORLD - By Jill Lawless

LON­DON — Bri­tain took a big step to­ward the Euro­pean Union exit door Fri­day when law­mak­ers gave pre­lim­i­nary ap­proval to Con­ser­va­tive Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son’s EU di­vorce bill in a de­ci­sive vote that broke years of po­lit­i­cal dead­lock over Brexit.

The House of Com­mons, with its Con­ser­va­tive ranks swollen af­ter John­son’s elec­tion vic­tory last week, voted 358-234 for the With­drawal Agree­ment Bill, clear­ing the way for the U.K. to leave the Euro­pean Union next month.

Fri­day’s vote was a mo­ment of tri­umph for John­son, who won a com­mand­ing par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity in last week’s gen­eral elec­tion on a prom­ise to end more than three years of po­lit­i­cal grid­lock and lead Bri­tain out of the Euro­pean Union on Jan. 31.

Ju­bi­lant Con­ser­va­tive law­mak­ers gath­ered around the prime min­is­ter in the House of Com­mons af­ter the vote, get­ting him to sign their copies of the bill. Op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers looked de­spon­dent.

“The elec­tion has pro­duced a re­sult: We will leave the EU at the end of Jan­uary,” ac­knowl­edged pro-EU Lib­eral Demo­crat leg­is­la­tor Wera Hob­house. “The bat­tle to stop Brexit is over.”

The bill will re­ceive more scru­tiny and pos­si­ble amend­ment next month when law­mak­ers re­turn from a two-week hol­i­day break, and it also has to be ap­proved by Par­lia­ment’s un­elected up­per cham­ber, the House of Lords. But John­son’s par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity means it is al­most cer­tain to be­come law in Jan­uary.

Bri­tain would then leave the EU on Jan. 31.

John­son said Fri­day that pass­ing the bill would end the “ac­ri­mony and an­guish” that has con­sumed the coun­try since it voted in 2016 to leave the EU. Op­po­nents ar­gue that leav­ing will only trig­ger more un­cer­tainty over Bri­tain’s fu­ture trade re­la­tions with the bloc.

The U.K.’s de­par­ture will open a new phase of Brexit, as Bri­tain and the EU race to strike new re­la­tion­ships for trade, se­cu­rity and a host of other ar­eas by the end of 2020.

John­son, how­ever, painted Fri­day’s vote as a mo­ment of clo­sure. Open­ing de­bate on the bill, he said, op­ti­misti­cally, that af­ter Jan, 31, “Brexit will be done, it will be over.”

“The sorry story of the last 31⁄2 years will be at an end and we will be able to move for­ward to­gether,” he said.

Bri­tain voted nar­rowly to leave the EU in a 2016 ref­er­en­dum. But pre­vi­ous at­tempts by John­son and his pre­de­ces­sor, Theresa May, to pass a Brexit deal through the U.K. Par­lia­ment foundered as law­mak­ers ob­jected to sec­tions of the agree­ment and de­manded a big­ger say in the process.

John­son’s elec­tion vic­tory fi­nally gives him the power to get his way.

The bill com­mits Bri­tain to leav­ing the EU on Jan. 31 and to end trade talks with the bloc by the end of 2020. Trade ex­perts and EU of­fi­cials say strik­ing a free trade deal within 11 months will be a strug­gle. The Brexit bill has been amended to bar min­is­ters from ex­tend­ing the tran­si­tion pe­riod with the EU.

Op­po­si­tion Labour Party lawmaker Hi­lary Benn said John­son’s bill was “a gam­ble with our na­tion’s econ­omy.”

JES­SICA TAY­LOR/UK PAR­LIA­MENT

Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son fo­cuses on the Brexit bill Fri­day in the House of Com­mons.

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