Brexit Project moves up a gear

British lawmakers voted for Boris Johnson’s Brexit bill paving the way for Britain’s exit from the European Union on January 31.

The newly elected British parliament voted, in principle, for Boris Johnson’s Brexit project. This is not a surprise, given the majority obtained by the Conservatives last week. The question was rather how much this vote would be a victory, and it is indeed a triumph. The “for” vote won with a majority of 124 votes, far more than the 80 additional seats enjoyed by the Conservatives. Six Labor MPs even supported the government, despite the party’s course of action.

The Prime Minister, therefore, succeeded in his bet, that of breaking the parliament from the dead-end where he had been for two years. But for Boris Johnson, it’s more than a victory. On Friday, MPs also voted for the program implementing this bill. A program that had been rejected in October by the House of Commons. This is the reason why the early general elections were called. These results therefore also have a taste for revenge. Anti-Brexit MEPs must get used to this idea, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union on January 31, 2020.

Some differences from the October agreement So “the oven is running”, as Boris Johnson likes to say and his “ready-to-cook” agreement has been put in the oven. That said, it will not be fully cooked for Christmas. MEPs have just gone on vacation and will have to wait until the beginning of January to continue voting on the legislation necessary to put Brexit in place. During this phase, the opposition can have its say and will try to obtain concessions. If the agreement that has just been voted is similar to that presented in October, it has some significant differences.

Legal protection for refugee children has been curtailed and provisions to maintain high standards for the worker or environmental protection are no longer included in the agreement. They should be the subject of separate legislation. A priori, the examination of the text in detail should last until mid-January. Then, this bill should pass through the House of Lords where it will be debated for two weeks before receiving the approval of the Queen. The United Kingdom can then leave the European Union.

The country in transition For Boris Johnson, this is where things should get complicated. From February 1 until December 31, 2020, the country will enter a transition period. It will keep all the advantages of membership of the internal market of the European Union and the customs union but will lose its representation in the institutions of the European Union and its role in decision-making. According to the Financial Times, the priority for both parties will, therefore, be to conclude a free trade agreement which will serve as the basis for the new economic relations to be developed.

Johnson will have until June 2020 to request an extension of this transition period but has promised that he will not do so. Will he be able to keep that promise? According to Labor, nothing is less certain. During the election campaign, Jeremy Corbyn reiterated that these 11 months will not be enough to establish new commercial relations with the European Union. The danger for the opposition is to see the risk of an exit without agreement reappearing.

By Chloé Goudenhooft, correspondent in London (United Kingdom)

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