UK lawmakers vote to approve Brexit bill in first step for Johnson

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister’s Questions session in the House of Commons in London, Britain September 4, 2019.Jessica Taylor | ©UK Parliament | ReutersLawmakers in the U.K. Parliament have offered a rare step forward in Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union by voting that the the government’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill can proceed to the next stage of scrutiny.After an almost full day of debate, MPs voted on Tuesday evening in favor of the bill’s passage to the next step in Parliament by 329 votes to 299.It is the first time that U.K. lawmakers have, by a majority, backed any Brexit deal agreed between Brussels and London. It means MPs will now study the bill in detail.The U.K. government, keen to deliver on their October 31 exit promise, now want to give MPs three days to consider the merits of a bill that, if enacted, would enable Brexit to be brought into law.Johnson and his team now face a crucial second vote Tuesday night on whether MPs are prepared to accept this limited period as enough time to push the legislation through Parliament.The prime minister said earlier Tuesday that if this second vote failed to go his way, he could pull the whole legislation and instead call for a U.K. general election.”If Parliament refuses to allow Brexit to happen and instead gets its way and decides to delay everything until January or possibly longer, in no circumstances can the government continue with this. And with great regret, I must say the bill will have to be pulled and we will have to go forward to a general election,” he said.Leader of the main opposition Labour party Jeremy Corbyn earlier described the bill as: “Page after page of nothing but a charter for deregulation and a race to the bottom.”Among other things, the bill draws a new customs border in the Irish Sea; provides that all the U.K. will leave the EU customs union; turns the agreed transition period into law; and approves a divorce payment schedule to the EU.Some lawmakers have expressed concern that the legislation, if passed unamended, will allow a no-deal Brexit to occur in December 2020, at the end of the transition period.This is a breaking news story, please check back later for more.What happens nextIf Johnson can get his Withdrawal Agreement Bill through the House of Commons before Thursday evening, it would then need to be ratified by Parliament’s upper chamber, the House of Lords. That final hurdle would see Johnson’s Brexit deal with Brussels last week turn into U.K. law.Having lost a crucial vote on Saturday, Johnson has been forced to pass his withdrawal bill through the House of Commons and be accepted before MPs (Members of Parliament) give their full consent.If MPs make major changes to the agreement later this week, despite agreeing to it in principle on Tuesday, the government is also expected to actually pull the bill.On Saturday, the U.K. Parliament decided not to have a clear yes or no vote on the deal that the prime minister negotiated with the EU, arguing that Parliament should first approve all the necessary legislation to leave the bloc. A majority of parliamentarians pushed for this in order to prevent a no-deal scenario at the end of the month, as it triggered a law that meant Johnson had to request a deadline extension with the EU. Second vote dueThe second vote on Tuesday evening will be on whether Johnson is allowed to push his legislation through the House of Commons before the end of play Thursday — a relatively short period of time due to the impending Brexit deadline. It would then proceed to the House of Lords and remain on track to pass in time and allow Johnson to keep his promise of a Brexit before the end of the month.A rejection of this timeframe would effectively mean a deadline extension is inevitable. Some lawmakers have voiced their opposition against what they believe is a rushed schedule. A bill of this importance would usually take weeks to pass through Parliament.

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