House of Lords approves Brexit bill

Nellie Chapman
January 23, 2020

"At times it felt like we would never cross the Brexit finish line, but we've done it", Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

The UK's so-called divorce agreement with the European Union has crossed the Parliament finish line, setting in motion the final stages for Britain's exit from the 28-member economic bloc on January 31.

The Scottish Parliament (92 votes to 29) and the Northern Irish Assembly (unanimous) both rejected it and there was an expectation from the start that the Senedd would reject it too.

An agreement would have to be struck by the middle of October to leave time needed to translate the treaty into the EU's 23 official languages and the possible need for ratification in the bloc's parliaments before year-end.

Johnson finally succeeded in getting his bill through the Commons and the Lords after several failed attempts by his predecessor Theresa May.

MPs also removed an amendment made by the Lords to force the British government to let unaccompanied migrant children in European Union countries join relatives living in the UK. Labour, Liberal Democrat and independent crossbench peers ignored repeated ministerial warnings not to amend the Bill, insisting their objection was not to stop Brexit but to ensure the legislation was better drafted.

Lord Dubs, who has been campaigning on the issue for years, said the outcome was "bitterly disappointing" while Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said the government had shown a "compassion by-pass". We are leaving on 31 January.

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The comments echo the sentiments of newly-appointed European Commission president, Ursula Von Der Leyen, who said a week ago that the bloc's "top priority" would be to "implement the Withdrawal Agreement both in spirit and in letter", adding that there would be no "watering down, no backsliding, no half-measures".

Brussels will "not tolerate any backsliding or half measures", the senior adviser to chief negotiator Michel Barnier said, after the Prime Minister repeatedly claimed checks would not be necessary.

"We find ourselves here today, that our Parliament has been ignored, our government has been ignored and, against the expressed wishes of the people of Scotland that voted in the referendum and reaffirmed the right of the people of Scotland to determine their own destiny, that that has been ignored".

The EU parliament needs to approve the legislation next week to set the course for Britain's departure.

Wrapping up even a "bare bones" deal on the future relationship between the European Union and Britain will be fraught with complexity and, with so little time to get it done, a painful "hard" Brexit at year-end still can not be ruled out, diplomats said.

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