Members of the British Parliament have voted to give Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement Bill a second reading, paving the way for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union on January 31.
Johnson cleared his first hurdle in the House of Commons on Friday, having won his Conservative Party a large parliamentary majority in the December 12 general election.
Six MPs from the opposition Labour Party – Sarah Champion, Rosie Cooper, Jon Cruddas, Emma Lewell-Buck, Grahame Morris and Toby Perkins – voted with the Conservatives, defying a three-line whip, the strongest possible order from party grandees, to vote with the government instead of their own party, despite provisions in the renewed legislation stripping out procedural protections of workers’ rights.
A majority of 124 MPs voted for a second reading – 358 for, compared with 234 against. There were no rebels among Conservative ranks, though ten Tory MPs abstained from voting. No fewer than 32 Labour MPs abstained from voting.
Previous attempts to pass a Brexit deal had failed because of strong opposition in parliament.
Johnson repeatedly promised to deliver Brexit by January 31 in his election campaign. Getting “the Brexit vote wrapped up for Christmas” was his main aim.
“This is the time when we move on and discard the old labels of ‘leave’ and ‘remain’ … now is the time to act together as one reinvigorated nation, one United Kingdom,” Johnson told parliament before the vote.
“Now is the moment to come together and write a new and exciting chapter in our national story, to forge a new partnership with our European friends, to stand tall in the world, to begin the healing for which the whole people of this country yearn.”
The final stages of ratification will take place after Christmas, with the lower house of parliament having until January 9 to approve the bill, giving it just more than three weeks to then pass through the upper house and receive Royal Assent.
Since his victory, officials have said Johnson will legislate to prevent any extension of the Brexit transition period beyond 2020 – comments that upset EU leaders who warned that striking a trade deal in just 11 months would be near impossible.
The development weakened the pound, which had received a boost after the general election result, as analysts said the prospect of a no-deal Brexit was back on the table.