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UK: Boris Johnson's Brexit bill becomes law

January 23, 2020

The final formality for the withdrawal bill was confirmed when Queen Elizabeth II gave royal assent. PM Boris Johnson yesterday praised the legislation, saying "we have done it" after it was ratified by UK lawmakers.

Union Jacks at the Houses of Parliament in London
Image: picture-alliance/NurPhoto/D. Cliff

The UK moved a step closer to its January 31 exit date from the European Union on Thursday when Queen Elizabeth II gave her formal assent to Brexit legislation ratified by British lawmakers the day prior. 

Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, Nigel Evans, declared the Withdrawal Agreement Act had received the royal approval, meaning there are no more significant obstacles prior to next week's departure.

Two top EU officials in Brussels are expected to sign the separation treaty on Friday.

Johnson predicts 'exciting future'

"At times it felt like we would never cross the Brexit finish line, but we've done it," Prime Minister Boris Johnson said after the bill passed in Parliament on Wednesday.

"Now we can put the rancor and division of the past three years behind us and focus on delivering a bright, exciting future," he added.

Earlier that day, the lower house of Parliament, the House of Commons, overturned changes the upper house, the House of Lords, had made to the legislation, including a clause to ensure protections for child refugees after Brexit.

Read more: Will Boris Johnson 'get Brexit done' in 2020?

The Lords could have sought to reinstate the changes, but decided not to, allowing the legislation to clear its final parliamentary hurdle in the UK. There will be a consent vote in the EU parliament on January 29.

Johnson has promised to put in place new free trade agreements with the EU by December 31, ruling out any extension, but EU officials have suggested this timescale is improbable.

Boris Johnson in the House of Commons
Boris Johnson dismissed claims that he is pushing through a more hard-line BrexitImage: Reuters/Reuters TV

MPs vote against refugee children being reunited with families

The House of Commons effectively stripped the Withdrawal Agreement Bill — which dictates the terms of the UK's exit from the EU — of five amendments.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said the reunification of refugee children in EU member states with family members already in the UK was "ultimately a matter which must be negotiated with the EU, and the government is committed to seeking the best possible outcome in those negotiations."

Another amendment included registering the 3.6 million EU citizens living in the UK, which would have provided documents to ensure continuity of their residence in the country. However, that amendment was removed from the bill.

Open Borders - my Europe, my Future

Broken promises?

In 2018, then-Prime Minister Theresa May pledged that, even in the event of Brexit, London would allow unaccompanied refugee children to be reunited with their parents in the UK.

The latest developments in the House of Commons have triggered anger from opposition lawmakers, with some accusing the ruling Conservatives of going back on their promises.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative government are planning to "betray the commitments that have been made to the most vulnerable children of all," said Labour lawmaker Yvette Cooper.

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ed,ls/se (Reuters, AP)