Boris Johnson’s Brexit bill is expected to pass its final stage in the Commons this afternoon, bringing to a close months of wrangling over the UK’s exit from the European Union.
The Withdrawal Agreement Bill – which Theresa May spent over a year trying and failing to get backing for during her premiership – is expected to be waved through after its third reading by MPs this afternoon. It will then head to the Lords for further scrutiny.
Johnson’s 80-seat majority means the Prime Minister will be able to dispense with 11th hour horse trading that characterised his and his predecessor’s efforts to get the critical Brexit bill legislation passed.
That means the UK is now firmly on the path to Brexit on 31 January, a moment which is expected to be marked by a series of celebrations, although Number 10 is keeping plans under wraps for now.
However, work will then begin in earnest to deal with the next set of challenges posed by the second phase of Brexit talks, with Johnson committed to getting a trade deal by the end of 2020.
Meeting with European Commission president Ursula Von Der Leyen yesterday, Johnson reiterated his position that there would be no extension to the current implementation period.
But he also told her he wanted “a broad free trade agreement covering goods and services, and cooperation in other areas”, without alignment, which would restrict the UK’s ability to strike free trade deals with other countries.
This morning Michel Barnier said it would not be possible to do strike a trade deal within the UK’s timeframe, even if the Brexit bill is passed today.
Speaking in Stockholm on his birthday, the EU’s chief negotiator said: “We simply cannot expect to agree on every single aspect of this new partnership in under one year.
“We are ready to do our best and to do the maximum in the 11 months to secure a basic agreement with the UK, but we will need more time to agree on each and every point of this political declaration.”
Yesterday the Prime Minister’s press secretary appeared to suggest that the UK would look to close down mini-deals on a sectoral basis throughout the negotiation period, rather than leave everything to a final climax.
“We are very clear we want to get on in terms of negotiating a deal, so maybe the approach of nothing is agreed until everything is agreed which characterised previous negotiations is not an approach that we are interested in taking,” he said.
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