17:52 GMT +322 January 2020
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    The Conservative Party was re-elected last month with a big majority after campaigning to "get Brexit done". The General Election marked the end of months of deadlock in Parliament over the terms of Britain's withdrawal from the EU.

    The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill has been given its third reading in the House of Commons, marking a significant step towards Brexit taking place on 31 January.

    MPs voted by 330 to 231 - a majority of 99 - to approve the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Boris Johnson last year.

    The bill covers a wide range of matters including the size of Britain's "divorce" payments, the rights of EU citizens, the arrangements for the Irish border and for customs in Northern Ireland and the details of the 11-month transition period.

    ​The legislation still has to go before the House of Lords and could be referred back to the Commons.

    MPs gave their initial approval to the bill before the Christmas recess and a number of Labour MPs have also supported it.

    The Liberal Democrats' Brexit spokesman, Alistair Carmichael, said the bill was "dangerous" and they would continue to oppose it.

    He said: "They have voted for a bill that will slash the rights of future generations to live and work across 27 other countries. They have voted for a bill that strips away our guaranteed environmental protections, despite the fact that we are facing a climate emergency."

    ​"Today marks the final stage In the House of Commons of the EU Withdrawal Bill. In many respects, it was always going to be a damp squib after Prime Minister Johnson’s thumping victory in December’s General Election," Laura McAllister, professor of public policy at the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University, says commenting on the issue.

    However, this is only the first stage, she reminds. "Next week the Bill moves to the Lords where peers will scrutinise it. There have been calls for the Lords to “respect” the votes of the people (both referendum and election) but it will undoubtedly receive tougher scrutiny given the Lords’ profile and concerns over Irish border issues especially," McAllister says.

    At the same time professor believes that "it looks extremely likely" that the European Parliament will approve the Bill, too, which means stage one of Brexit will happen at 23.00 GMT on 31st January. 

    In 2016 a referendum was held in the UK and 52 percent of voters opted to leave the European Union.

    But a deal negotiated by Theresa May was rejected by Parliament three times and when Mr Johnson succeeded her as prime minister his renegotiated deal was again turned down by MPs, sparking the General Election which led to a Conservative landslide.

    Ms McAllister also notes that the much thornier issue of future trade agreements and borders and customs need to be sorted by the end of the transition phase that is, by 31st December 2020.

    "So, Brexit is far from being done, as Boris Johnson claimed in the Election campaign but it will have taken an almighty leap forward later this evening," she concludes.

    What's Next?

    If the upper house endorses the terms of the "divorce" pact it will go to the queen to be signed and the United Kingdom will quit the union as planned on January 31.

    Brexit will trigger a transition period that ends on December 31 with the UK leaving the EU’s customs union and single market. The two hope to negotiate a new trade arrangement by that time.

    On Wednesday, Johnson and top EU officials, including Barnier and von der Leyen, discussed the next steps in the Brexit withdrawal process. Johnson stated that he was looking forward to concluding a free trade agreement with the EU, while von der Leyen was cautious, and stressed that prioritizing a number of key areas, such as defense, would be necessary given the short time frame to conclude negotiations and Johnson’s unwillingness to extend the transition period.

    Johnson’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement Bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons on December 20. Barnier added that the European Parliament would vote to ratify the legislation, which covers key issues such as the UK’s financial settlement with the EU and the issue of the Irish border, at the end of the month, just days before the withdrawal agreement’s deadline

    Tags:
    Conservative Party, Boris Johnson, Parliament, Brexit
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