The Brexit trade deal agreed between Britain and the European Union has been overwhelmingly approved by the House of Commons by 521 votes to 73 – a majority of 448.
The agreement set out in the The EU (Future Relationship) Bill will provisionally enter into force on December 31, subject to approval by the House of Lords and Royal Assent.
Parliament was recalled for one day only to enact the agreement into British law, just hours before Britain formally leaves the transition period and stops following EU rules.
In an interview with the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg, Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed that Britain can now have its cake and eat it.
Johnson insisted that the UK can “not only exploit the advantages of zero tariffs, zero quota deal with the EU, do things differently, take back control of our money, our borders, and our laws, but also do free trade deals with other countries around the world”.
Prior to the vote, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove concluded the parliamentary debate saying the Conservatives had kept their promise to the British people.
“More people in the 2016 referendum voted to leave the European Union than have ever voted for any proposition in our history. Four-and-a-half years later, we can say that we have kept faith with the people.”
As expected, Tory MPs backed the deal to the hilt, although party grandee, John Redwood and former Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson chose to abstain.
Paterson cited the “failure” over Northern Ireland, saying he “really can’t vote for a measure which actually divides the United Kingdom…I am very torn.”
Like many Leavers, Paterson also has concerns over fisheries: “It is great to have sovereignty and great to have zero tariffs and zero quotas…but we are going to need a really determined Government to make sure we use that sovereignty properly and really exploit it, nowhere more than on the issue of fish. It will take real political determination to get fish back.”
Redwood shares Paterson’s anxieties over both fisheries and Northern Ireland. Speaking to colleagues in the Commons yesterday he called for full control of fishing stocks to be recaptured as soon as possible and expressed his regrets this trade deal does not limit the EU’s power over the province. “Will the Government spell out more detail of what limitations there are to our power to be one United Kingdom,” he asked.
The day’s debate kicked off with an entertaining exchange between Johnson and the SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford who claimed Scottish fishermen would be worse off when the deal comes into effect on January 1st.
“I must correct him on what he says, because in fact, under this deal we have taken back control of our waters and indeed, Scottish fisheries from the get-go will have access to bigger quotas of all the relevant stocks,” replied Johnson from the dispatch box. “Cod for instance is going up by 47% to 57%…and in just five and half years’ time we take control of the entire marine wealth of Scotland.”
With Conservative MPS rallying behind their leader and only two rebelling, attention is focused on Labour. 36 Labour MPs defied the whip in abstaining with three resigning from the shadow Government including Florence Eshalomi, who took over from popular Leaver Kate Hoey as MP for Vauxhall at the last election.
In total, 162 Labour MPs voted for the deal, joined by 359 Conservative MPs. Due to the need to rush the Bill through in a single day, the second and third reading votes were held in quick succession with MPs voting exactly the same way, 521 to 73, on both occasions.