British lawmakers finally approve historic Brexit deal

An anti-Brexit protester holds a sign near Downing Street in London, Britain January 8, 2020. — Reuters pic
An anti-Brexit protester holds a sign near Downing Street in London, Britain January 8, 2020. — Reuters pic

LONDON, Jan 10 — Britain's parliament finally approved Brexit yesterday, allowing it to become the first country to leave the European Union later this month, ending years of arguments that toppled two governments and splintered society.

The House of Commons erupted in cheers after MPs ratified Prime Minister Boris Johnson's divorce deal with Brussels by 330 votes to 231, turning the page on an extraordinary era of political drama and chaos.

For much of the time since the 2016 Brexit referendum, lawmakers have been at each others' throats over how, when or even if Britain should leave its closest trading partners after nearly 50 years.

Some view Brexit with horror, fearing it will strip them of their European identities and turn Britain into an insular, less important nation.

Others embraced it with fervour, viewing it as a chance to “take back control” from officials in Brussels and see Britain regain some of its past might.

Businesses and governments in Europe, puzzled by Britain's struggles over what they viewed as a self-inflicted wound, hoped that Brexit could still somehow be undone.

A smile and a nod

But Johnson's comprehensive victory in last month's general election brought an abrupt end to the turmoil, giving his Conservatives a parliamentary majority with which to push it through.

MPs gave their initial blessing to the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill before Christmas, and the government set aside just three days this week for detailed scrutiny of the complex text.

But few even bothered to turn up on Tuesday and Wednesday, with both sessions ending early.

The momentous day on which Johnson effectively won permission to abandon the European integration project was all but ignored in yesterday's media.

Instead, it became a footnote to Prince Harry and his wife Meghan's decision to quit royal front-line duties — christened “Megxit” and shaping up to be equally complicated and divisive.

“We will be leaving the EU on January 31. We will have delivered on the PM's commitment to get Brexit done,” a government spokesman said, echoing Johnson's election mantra.

Britain's main opposition Labour party, bruised by its worst beating at the polls since 1935, voted against Brexit yesterday knowing the battle had been lost.

We “may not win many votes in parliament just now, but we can win the moral argument,” said Labour's Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer, a potential successor to Jeremy Corbyn as party leader.

Johnson attended the session but did not speak, savouring his victory from the front bench, where he smiled and nodded before the historic but all-but ceremonial vote.

The Brexit bill must still be passed by the unelected House of Lords and the European Parliament, which is seen as a formality. — AFP

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