Boris Johnson signs Brexit trade deal with EU
In an historic sitting yesterday, legislation to ensure the new rules governing trade between the UK and EU are activated from 11pm was backed by a thumping 448-vote Commons majority. Peers were on course to approve the EU (Future Relationship) Bill late last night. And the Queen was expected to enshrine the legislation into law by giving the measure the Royal Assent early today.
MPs voted by a 571 to 73 to give the Bill formal second and third readings.
On their December 30 sitting since 1912, the legislation speeded through all Commons stages in a single day.
Opening the debate after Parliament was recalled to rush through approval for his treaty, Mr Johnson told MPs: “Having taken back control of our money, our borders, our laws and our waters by leaving the European Union on Jan 31st, we now seize the moment to forge a fantastic new relationship with our European neighbours, based on free trade and friendly co-operation.
“And at the heart of this Bill is one of the biggest free trade agreements in the world, a comprehensive Canada-style deal, worth over £660 billion, which, if anything, should allow our companies to do even more business with our European friends, safeguarding millions of jobs and livelihoods in our UK and across the continent.”
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He added: “I hope and believe that this agreement will also serve to end some of the rancour and recrimination that we’ve had in recent years, allow us to come to together as a country.”
Most Labour MPs reluctantly backed the measure under order from Sir Keir Starmer.
But in signs of continuing bitter divisions in the party over Europe, around 30 rebels defied him by abstaining while one MP, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, voted against the Bill.
Two junior shadow ministers – Helen Hayes and Tonia Antoniazzi – quit their posts on the Labour frontbench to defy the party whip by abstaining.
Speaking during the debate, Sir Keir said the “thin deal” with “many flaws” was better than a no-deal scenario – and there was “no better deal coming in the next 24 hours”.
He added: “There’s only one choice today, which is to vote for implementing this deal or to vote for no deal.
“Those that vote no, are voting for no deal.
“This is the nub of it: those voting no today want yes. They want others to save them from their own vote. Voting no, wanting yes, that’s the truth of the situation and that’s why my party has taken a different path.”
Brexit: MPs vote in favour of trade deal
Sir Keir claimed he would have negotiated a “better” deal than Mr Johnson, adding: “When the default is no deal it’s not a mark of how pro-European you are to reject implementing this treaty.
The Lib Dems joined the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the DUP in voting against the Bill.
Veteran Eurosceptic Tory Sir Bill Cash paid a moving tribute to Mr Johnson during the debate.
He said the Prime Minister had “against all the odds, led us out of parliamentary paralysis last year to victory, delivering us from 48 years of subjugation to EU laws and European court jurisdiction and regaining our sovereignty.”
Sir Bill said: “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.
“Churchill and Margaret Thatcher would have been deeply proud of his achievements, and so are we. This Bill for our future relationship with the EU provides a new exciting era for our trade with Europe and the rest of the world on sovereign terms, not those of the EU, as with the Chequers deal.”
Former minister Mark Francois, chairman of the Brexit-backing European Research Group of Tory MPs, said: “Thanks to this agreement on New Year’s Eve we will finally leave the European Union forever, so perhaps Big Ben will bong for Brexit after all.”
Mr Francois joked about how hard-line Eurosceptics had been branded “Spartans”.
“Perhaps I and my Spartan friends should now lower our spears too, but perhaps keep them to hand just in case one day someone, perhaps the leader of the Opposition, should try and take us back in.
“My colleagues in the European Research Group have fought long and hard for this day and we have sometimes been lampooned or even vilified by the Remain-dominated electronic media for our trouble when all we have ever wanted is one thing – to live in a free country that elects its own government and makes its own laws here in Parliament and then lives under them in peace,” he said.
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In a barn-storming conclusion to the debate, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove tore in the SNP for seeking to exploit Brexit to separate Scotland from the rest of the UK.
He accused them of putting “their narrow nationalism ahead of our national interest”.
Mocking SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, Mr Gove told the Commons: “The leader of the SNP is voting to take us out of the EU without a deal. He is doing something that his own party said should be an imprisonable offence.”
He added: “Let us remember the difficulties and the challenges of this year, let us also remember how important it is that we should all now come together, that we should all now recognise that there are no such thing anymore as Remainers or Leavers.
“What we all are are Britons dedicated to a brighter future, stronger together, sovereign again, dedicated to ensuring a future of sharing, solidarity and excellence.”
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