British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged lawmakers to approve the Brexit trade deal hammered out with Brussels posthaste, saying the agreement would “open a new chapter in our national story.”
"I beg to move that the bill be now read a second time, and having taken back control of our money, our borders, our laws, and our waters by leaving the EU on 31 January, we now seize this moment to forge a fantastic new relationship with our European neighbours based on free trade and friendly cooperation," Johnson said, speaking to lawmakers at Wednesday’s debate.
Praising his government’s accomplishments in thrashing out the deal just days before the UK was threatened with the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, Johnson said the negotiations had been done “in less than a year, in the teeth of a pandemic,” while “resisting all calls for delay, precisely because creating certainty about our future provides the best chance of beating Covid and bouncing back even more strongly next year.”
Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour opposition, urged his party to back the deal but also criticised its alleged secrecy, which he warned might cause an "avalanche of checks, bureaucracy, and red tape for British businesses" in the future.
"This is a simple vote with a simple choice. Do we leave the transition period with the treaty that has been negotiated with the EU or do we leave with no deal? And so Labour will vote to implement this treaty today, to avoid no deal, and to put in place a floor from which we can build a strong future relationship with the EU," Starmer said. “A thin deal is better than no deal,” he added.
Starmer, who replaced Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader in April, actively campaigned against Brexit in 2016. Some of his colleagues have committed to abstain from the vote, citing the damage they believe will be done to the UK economy once the trade deal is signed, and accusing their party’s leader of “falling into the trap of rallying around this rotten deal.”
Ian Blackford, leader of the Scottish National Party in the House of Commons, called the agreement a “con deal” and expressed fears for Scotland’s fishing industry. He added that the country’s future “must be European.”
After the House of Commons votes, the bill will head to the House of Lords, who have been allotted eight hours, or until 11 pm local time, to debate and vote on it. After that, it would need royal approval late Wednesday or early Thursday.
After reaching the historic deal on Christmas Eve following a call with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Johnson praised it for saving Britain’s zero-tariff and zero-quota access to the European market.
Critics, however, have condemned the deal as a “substantial downgrade” from the UK’s current relationship with the bloc, and alleged that the bill would “open the door to rampant economic deregulation – a loss of rights and protections for workers, the environment, food standards, and many other areas of life.”