Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal clears final Commons hurdle

The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill was passed by 330 votes to 231.

Boris Johnson: Won Commons majority of 80 in election.
Boris Johnson: Won Commons majority of 80 in election.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal has cleared its final hurdle in the House of Commons, with it now set to become law.

The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill was passed by 330 votes to 231 – a majority of 99 – paving the way for Britain to leave the EU on January 31.

Having cleared its third reading, the Bill will next go to the House of Lords, where peers have been warned by the majority Conservative government to respect its mandate to “get Brexit done”.

An SNP amendment calling on MPs to reject the withdrawal agreement was defeated by 62 votes to 329.

The amendment called for the Bill to be voted down because the Scottish Parliament withheld its consent to the legislation on Wednesday.

MSPs can formally withhold approval for UK laws which affect Scotland through a legislative consent memorandum (LCM).

Under the Sewel Convention, the House of Commons is not expected to legislate in devolved areas without Holyrood’s express consent.

However, in practice it does not prevent the UK parliament passing such legislation, as it gives devolved administrations no legal powers to veto laws at Westminster.

Speaking after the Commons vote on the Brexit deal, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said forcing through the Bill without Holyrood’s agreement amounted to a “constitutional crisis”.

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It follows the first 2020 meeting of the joint ministerial council on Thursday which included Scottish secretary Alister Jack and Holyrood constitutional relations secretary Michael Russell.

Speaking after the meeting, Russell described leaving the EU as a “foolish retrograde step” and restated that the Scottish Government has a mandate for a second independence referendum.

He said: “I will feel immensely sad throughout this month and beyond because I think (Brexit) is a very foolish retrogade step.

“But Scotland has the opportunity to overcome it because Scotland has the opportunity to choose to become independent and re-join the EU.”

But Jack said Scottish ministers refused to respect the outcome of the 2016 EU referendum.

“The 2016 referendum was a UK-wide referendum and the UK voted to leave the European Union,” the Scottish secretary said.

“That’s exactly what we are delivering on because we respect the outcome of referendums.

“The Scottish Government don’t respect it.

“They don’t agree with that one and they don’t agree with the one in 2014 – the people who respect democracy is this government.”

In December, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon formally requested the powers for a fresh independence vote after the SNP won 47 of 59 Scottish seats in the general election.

Jack indicated the UK Government would give a “measured and considered response” to the First Minister’s request in the coming weeks.

Opening the debate on the Brexit Bill earlier in parliament, UK Brexit minister James Duddridge said: “This Bill is essential in preparing our country for leaving the European Union and will ensure that the deal which has been reached can be implemented.

“It also ensures that we can protect the rights of citizens who have made their lives here and there is no hard border on the island of Ireland and that we take back control of money and our laws.”

Johnson’s Brexit deal needs to be ratified both by the UK parliament and the European parliament to guarantee the January 31 departure date.

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It comes almost a year on from the first rejection of former PM Theresa May’s deal, which was crushed by MPs with a majority of 230 against – the biggest ever parliamentary defeat of a sitting government.

Months of deadlock ensued as May tried to pass her version of the withdrawal agreement, with bitter Conservative infighting ultimately leading to her departure and her successor Johnson’s altered deal.

After winning a majority of 80 in the general election in December, the passage of the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal into law was assured.