Parliament has passed a historic milestone towards leaving the European Union, backing Boris Johnson’s Brexit bill by a thumping majority of 124, a week after the Conservatives won a landslide victory in the general election.
After comfortably passing its second reading by 358 votes to 234, the withdrawal agreement bill is on track to complete its passage through both houses of parliament in time to allow Britain to leave the European Union at the end of January.
The clear support for the bill signalled a decisive break with the parliamentary gridlock that marked the past two years.
Opening the debate on his bill on Friday morning, the prime minister called on the British public to discard the labels of leave and remain.
“We come together as a new parliament to break the deadlock and finally to get Brexit done,” Johnson said.
He said the electorate’s decision to press ahead with leaving the EU “must not be seen as a victory for one party over another, or one faction or another. This is the time when we move on and discard the old labels of leave and remain.”
In a characteristic literary aside, Johnson claimed the terms were “as defunct as Big-Enders and Little-Enders, and Montagues and Capulets at the end of the play” – terms from Gulliver’s Travels and Romeo and Juliet respectively.
Responding to Johnson, the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, confirmed his party would continue to oppose the bill – though some Labour MPs, including shadow cabinet members, have argued that the election result means they should support it and move on.
Corbyn said: “This deal will be used as a battering ram to drive us down the path towards more deregulation and towards a toxic deal with Donald Trump that will sell out our NHS and push up the price of medicines. We remain certain there is a better and fairer way for Britain to leave the EU.”
However, the Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck signalled that she would support the bill, saying that after last week’s general election result, it was time to put an end to “opposition for opposition’s sake”.
The bill, which was published on Thursday, had been stripped of a series of promises the government had made previously in an attempt to get it through parliament before the election, including on workers’ rights.
Johnson insisted Britain’s right to make its own decisions on these issues was a key benefit of Brexit. “We will take advantage of these new freedoms to legislate in parallel on the environment, on workers’ and on consumer rights,” he said.
“The very essence of the opportunity of Brexit is that we will no longer outsource these decisions. With renewed national confidence, we will take those decisions ourselves and answer to those who sent us here.
“This house should never doubt its ability to pioneer standards for the fourth industrial revolution, just as it did for the first.”
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