After years of angry arguments that toppled two governments, Britain’s parliament yesterday was set to finally approve the terms of Brexit, clearing the divided country’s exit from the European Union on January 31.
The House of Commons will rush through a final day of hearings and ratify Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s divorce deal with Brussels, drawing a line under an extraordinary period of political chaos.
For much of the time since the 2016 Brexit referendum, lawmakers have been deadlocked over how, when and even if Britain should leave its closest trading partners after nearly 50 years.
Some viewed Brexit with horror, fearing that it stripped them of their European identities and turned Britain into an insular, slightly smaller, and somewhat less important nation.
Others embraced it with fervour, viewing it as a chance to “take back control” from unelected officials in Brussels and see Britain regain some of its past might.
Businesses and governments in Europe, puzzled with Britain’s struggles over what they viewed as a self-inflicted wound, hoped that Brexit could still somehow be undone.
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 Brexit 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 MPs even bothered to turn up on Tuesday and Wednesday, with both sessions ending early, while the government easily saw off opposition attempts to amend the text.
In a striking contrast to much of last year, when every Brexit vote risked bringing down the previous government and eventually did, Commons approval is now a done deal.
We “may not win many votes in parliament just now, but we can win the moral argument,” Keir Starmer, a potential successor to Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the main opposition Labour party, said yesterday.
The Brexit bill must still be passed by the unelected House of Lords and the European Parliament, but this is expected before January 31.
All eyes are now on another major challenge: the negotiation of a new relationship between Britain and the remaining 27 EU nations, which form the world’s largest single market.
The Brexit deal covers separation issues such as EU citizens’ rights and Britain’s financial settlement, and sets out an 11-month transition period in which to agree a wider partnership.