Europe Politics

UK lawmakers back Boris Johnson's withdrawal bill in major step toward Brexit

Key Points
  • Lawmakers have agreed to the bill in principle and it will now be debated further by both chambers of Parliament early next year.
  • If passed into law, it would mean that the U.K. would leave the EU on Jan. 31, 3½ years after the 2016 referendum.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street on his way to Buckingham Palace after the general election in London, Britain, December 13, 2019.
Thomas Mukoya | Reuters

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson successfully tested his new parliamentary majority on Friday, with lawmakers approving his amended Brexit bill, which puts the country on course to leave the European Union by Jan. 31.

Lawmakers have agreed to the legislation in principle and it will now be debated further by both chambers of Parliament early next year. But it now looks likely that it will complete its passage with 358 MPs (members of Parliament) backing it and 234 voting against it.

Changes to the bill from October are seen as controversial by many. The new bill would outlaw any extension to the U.K.'s transition period which would run to Dec. 31, 2020. This would tighten the gap that Britain has to agree a trade deal with the EU — increasing the chances of a no-deal Brexit.

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Other changes would see more U.K. courts being allowed to reconsider laws that have been ruled on by the European Court of Justice. A clause on workers' rights has been removed although the government has said that this will be dealt with in a separate bill.

If passed into law, it would mean that the U.K. would leave the EU on Jan. 31, 3½ years after the 2016 referendum.

In October, U.K. lawmakers did initially approve the bill but rejected a short time frame to ratify it, which ultimately led to last week's general election. The public vote gave Johnson a huge 80-seat majority in the lower chamber of Parliament and effectively broke the deadlock that has plagued British politics in recent years.

Sterling has trended lower this week with the threat of no deal being brought back to the table. But the currency barely moved as the vote came in, as it was widely expected due to the increased power that Johnson now holds in Parliament. By 2.45 p.m. London time, it was trading at 1.3035 against the U.S. dollar.

Johnson's predecessor, Theresa May, was unsuccessful on three occasions with her own Brexit bill before officially stepping down on June 7 of this year.

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Correction: This story has been updated to better reflect the role of the European Court of Justice.