GP Insights # 206, 21 December 2019
The United Kingdom has moved one step closer towards leaving the European Union after the House of Commons supported overwhelmingly the withdrawal bill of the newly elected Prime Minister Boris Johnson. After comfortably passing its second reading by 358 votes to 234 the withdrawal agreement is on track to complete its passage through both the House to allow Brexit to happen at the end of January. If the ratification by the Westminster occurs as planned, the European Parliament is expected to ratify the withdrawal agreement on 29 January paving the way for the UK to leave the bloc two days later, thereby comfortably banning the extension of the transition period.
What is the background?
"Getting Brexit done" has no doubt turned out to be a useful slogan that not only helped Boris Johnson win the election but clear the three-year deadlock in the Parliament over the Brexit Withdrawal Bill. The bill has been expected to pass easily after the Conservatives won an 80-seat majority in the general election on 12 December. Calling for a snap election after the bill failed to get the Parliament consensus, let Boris Johnson test the public mandate on the Brexit, and with a comfortable win thereafter, the passage of the bill is the first hurdle in Britain's Brexit journey.
What does it mean?
What remains to be understood is what happens after the Brexit bill is passed.
Firstly, the bill will now commence a new path towards a free trade agreement between the EU and UK. The President of the European Council has welcomed the voting as an important step in the article 50 ratification process, but sent a caution when he added that a level playing field remains a must for any future relationship. The EU has demanded a fair competition in exchange for a free trade agreement with zero tariffs and quotas. This has put the business lobby in jitters who would now be faced with competition in the home country as well strive for fair play in the European market.
Secondly, the voting on the bill has shown the fault lines within the Labour party. The party though continues to oppose the government's deal has also exposed the disagreements among the party members on Labour party's standing on the Brexit despite losing the election mandate. Six Labour MPs defied the party whip and voted with the government and around 20 more deliberately abstained including the shadow house secretary during the voting for the bill.