The United Kingdom moved a step closer to leaving the European Union on Tuesday when Prime Minister Boris Johnson brought his Brexit deal back to Parliament, with MPs finally set to approve it after years of division and delay.
Having scooped a parliamentary majority in the December 12 election, Johnson now faces little threat of defeat, deadlock or delay.
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Opening the debate, Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay said the Withdrawal Agreement Bill “delivers on the overwhelming mandate given to us by the British people to get Brexit done by the end of January”.
Members of Parliament have three days to debate the legislation to enshrine Johnson’s divorce deal, which will steer the country’s most significant constitutional change for a generation.
The two sides have agreed on an 11-month transition phase in which to do this, lasting until December 31, with their ties remaining the same in practice during that time.
Failure to reach a trade deal before the end of the transition period could result in significant disruption and economic damage on both sides of the Channel.
Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said von der Leyen would discuss with Johnson how “we can come out with a positive agreement at the end of the year”.
Johnson is so determined that there should be no extension to the transition phase that he has enshrined the December 31, 2020, date in the Brexit bill.
British opposition MPs condemned the move, and Green MP Caroline Lucas warned Tuesday that it would “tie the hands of the government in such an unnecessary way”.
But addressing a nearly empty Commons chamber, Barclay insisted, “With absolute clarity on the timetable, we are working to, the UK and the EU will be able to get on with it.”
Johnson, a former London mayor who led the Brexit campaign in the referendum, is eager to move on from EU matters and his government has implemented an unofficial ban on the word “Brexit” starting next month.
His finance minister, Sajid Javid, also announced on Tuesday he would hold a new post-Brexit budget vote on March 11, to “seize the opportunities that come from getting Brexit done”.
The Brexit deal covers the UK’s financial liabilities, protections for around 3.5 million EU citizens living in the UK after Brexit, the transition period and new trade arrangements for Northern Ireland.