LONDON: British lawmakers are set to hold their first major vote on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit bill Friday. It is all but certain to be approved by the country’s new Conservative-dominated Parliament.
The vote to approve the Withdrawal Agreement Bill in principle will set Britain on course to leave the European Union as scheduled on Jan. 31. That was the key campaign promise of Johnson, who won a commanding parliamentary majority in last week’s U.K. general election.
Previous attempts 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. But Johnson’s victory gives him the power to get his way.
The bill commits Britain to leaving the EU on Jan. 31 and to concluding trade talks with the bloc by the end of 2020. Trade experts and EU officials said striking a free trade deal within 11 months will be a struggle, but Johnson insists he won’t agree to any more delays, and the bill has been amended to bar ministers from agreeing to extend the transition period with the EU.
That has set off alarm bells among businesses, who fear that means the country will face a “no-deal” Brexit at the start of 2021.
Johnson has stripped out parts of the bill which gave lawmakers a role in negotiating a future trade deal with the EU and required ministers to provide regular updates to Parliament. The clauses were added earlier in the year in an attempt to win opposition lawmakers’ support -- backing that Johnson no longer needs.
A promise that workers’ rights will not be eroded after Brexit has also been removed, though the government said it will enshrine employment rights in separate legislation.
The bill is expected to complete its passage through Parliament in January, in time for Britain to leave the 28-nation bloc on Jan. 31.
The divorce deal also needs to be ratified by the European Parliament. European Parliament vice president Pedro Silva Pereira said officials expect that to happen by Jan. 29.
Very little will change immediately after Brexit. Britain will remain an EU member in all but name during the 11-month transition period that ends in December 2020.
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