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MPs Have Backed Boris Johnson's Brexit Trade Deal

MPs Have Backed Boris Johnson's Brexit Trade Deal
5 min read

MPs have backed Boris Johnson's controversial Brexit trade deal by an overwhelming majority of 521 to just 73.

Johnson said the UK would become the EU's 'best friend' and an ally through the deal set out in his EU (Future Relationship) Bill and encouraged MPs support for it in the Commons.

Fifty-nine politicians spoke for just under five hours, and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, paid tribute to those who had been arguing for Brexit for many years, including senior Tories Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson, and chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, Bill Cash.

Closing the debate Gove said the country should come together, and that there were no more remainers or leavers. 

“What we all are, are persons dedicated to a brighter future. Stronger together, sovereign again, dedicated to ensuring a future of sharing solidarity and excellence,” he said.

Two of Labour's front-bench team quit saying they could not vote for the deal; shadow cabinet minister Helen Hayes and opposition whip Florence Eshalomi. Tonia Antoniazzi quit as a parliamentary private secretary to the Scotland and work and pensions teams after abstaining on the vote. She said in her letter to leader Keir Starmer the bill is a step backwards for the country.

Labour’s Rachel Reeves, who shadows Gove, said her party would back it but they were not the deal's cheerleaders, and Johnson would have to own it and prepare to be held accountable.

She said Labour had tabled seven amendments to the bill - none of which were heard - that would have covered the lack of access to the Schengen Information System, the Erasmus programme for students, and the need for performers and artists permits.

Former Tory party leader Iain Duncan Smith said the deal was not perfect, but a huge advance on where the country might have been. He also reflected that it ended a 29 year period since he voted against the Maastricht Treaty, and set himself up as a politician doggedly against the expansion of the EU. 

However former Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson said he would abstain on the bill because it left Northern Ireland under a different set of arrangements to the rest of the UK. 

"I've love to vote for this but I really can't vote for a measure which divides the United Kingdom. Has a different regime on tax, as part of the customs union they will be under the ECJ, single market etc. I'm very torn...I will be abstaining," he said. 

The DUP's Sammy Wilson said his party would not be backing it for the very same reason.

Other Labour MPs said they would abstain, including Nadia Whittome and Beth Winter from the 2019 intake. Former leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would not back the bill because it would drive down "rights and protections".

Earlier, Johnson struck an upbeat and optimistic tone as he opened the debate, and batted away criticism for rushing the bill through in a single day and for not providing adequately for financial services.

Scottish MPs also had significant concerns about fishing rights, and the SNP's Kirsty Blackman called the deal a "steaming mug of excrement".  

The Prime Minister, who secured the deal on Christmas Eve after intense negotiations with the EU, said: "Now with this Bill we are going to become a friendly neighbour.

"The best friend and ally the EU could have. Working hand in glove whenever our values and interests co-incide while fulfilling the sovereign wish of the British people to live under their own laws, made by their own elected parliament. 

"That is the historic resolution delivered by this bill."

Labour leader Keir Starmer responded that Johnson had his support, only because: "A thin deal is better than no deal."

Throughout his statement, Johnson made much of the deal securing the UK as an independent coastal state and that it had regained control of its waters, which will in turn revive the fishing industry.

However the SNP's Linden said Andrew Locker, chairman of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, had said how he was angry and disappointed that Johnson had previously promised the rights to all the fish in an exclusive economic zone. 

"We've got a fraction of that. Is he wrong?" asked Linden.

"I'm afraid yes he is Mr Speaker," Johnson replied, who said this would be possible in five and a half years' time. 

Former Prime Minister Theresa May was one of the first to speak in the debate, and said she was disappointed that the deal was not comprehensive on services or financial services, referring to her own Mansion House speech in 2018, where she set out her personal vision for the future relationship, which would have included a ground-breaking relationship on finance.  

"Sadly it's not been achieved. 

"We have a deal in trade which benefits the EU. But not a deal in services, which would have benefited the UK," she said.

She said the UK should also try and regain access to the Schengen Information System II system because it is vital in tackling modern slavery, child abduction and idenfitying criminals.

In response to Labour's Peter Kyle, who said people working in financial services had been excluded from the deal, Johnson said: "This deal does a great deal for services, for financial services, for legal professions and many other professions."

After the bill is debated and voted on in the Lords, it is expected to receive Royal Assent around midnight.

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