The British House of Commons during passage of the Brexit deal. Picture: UK PARLIAMENT/HESSICA TAYLOR via REUTERS
The British House of Commons during passage of the Brexit deal. Picture: UK PARLIAMENT/HESSICA TAYLOR via REUTERS

London — Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit trade deal was approved by the UK parliament less than 24 hours before the country’s final split from the EU.

The House of Lords gave the green light to the agreement late on Wednesday, just a day before the UK leaves the EU single market when the transition period expires at 11pm on Thursday.

Johnson thanked members of parliament for backing the “historic” legislation, which turns the accord he signed with the EU into British law.

“The destiny of this great country now resides firmly in our hands,” Johnson said in an e-mailed statement after the deal was approved. “We take on this duty with a sense of purpose and with the interests of the British public at the heart of everything we do.”

The rush to get the agreement through parliament in a single day brings to an end a four-year saga that has gripped British politics and divided the country. Since the referendum vote in June 2016, the turmoil over Brexit has forced two prime ministers to resign, roiled markets, and seen the UK’s relationship with its biggest trading partner radically redefined.

For Johnson it is a personal achievement as well as a political milestone. He was the face of the pro-Brexit campaign in 2016 and had the most to lose politically from failure to deliver an orderly divorce.

There are still risks for Johnson — and for Britain — in the months and years ahead, with new rules for trade and checks on goods crossing the border likely to make disruption inevitable. The question of how close or distant the UK should be to the EU market is set to become a permanent feature of British political debate.

In the short term, however, the deal gives Johnson a domestic victory at a difficult time. His government is battling a resurgent coronavirus that has already inflicted the deepest recession for more than 300 years and now threatens to overwhelm the health service.

Under the agreement, there will be zero-tariff, zero-quota trade in goods between Britain and the EU — but very limited provisions for services firms, which account for 80% of the UK economy.

The deal — struck on Christmas Eve — was signed on Wednesday by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel, before being flown to London to be inked by Johnson.

As the clock ticks down to the UK’s exit from the single market and customs union, the premier will be in his Downing Street residence with his family, according to a statement from a government spokesperson.

The moment will mark “a new beginning in our country’s history and a new relationship with the EU as their biggest ally,” Johnson said.

Bloomberg

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