PM wins majority of 99 in vote, as MPs reject pledge to reunite separated refugee families
Boris Johnson’s Brexit bill cleared the House of Commons on Thursday in a major milestone that means the UK is on track to leave the EU on 31 January.
The prime minister won a vote on the EU withdrawal bill at third reading by 330 votes to 231, a majority of 99.
Before the election, MPs had thwarted Theresa May’s Brexit bill and threatened to do the same to Johnson’s revised deal.
However, the make-up of the new parliament is now strongly pro-Brexit, with Johnson’s sizeable Tory majority.
The bill will now go to the House of Lords where peers could give it a more challenging hearing but are still unlikely to block its passage.
The prime minister’s official spokesman warned the House of Lords, where Johnson does not have a majority, not to frustrate the progress of the legislation.
“The country did deliver a very clear message that they want Brexit to be resolved,” he said.
The bill passed without amendment in the Commons in marked contrast to torturous previous efforts of May and Johnson to get Brexit legislation through before the election.
Opposition MPs tried to force an amendment committing the government to allowing unaccompanied child refugees to continue to be reunited with their families in the UK after Brexit.
The previous government had accepted an amendment from Labour peer Lord Dubs seeking continued protections for child refugees after Brexit but Johnson ditched that commitment after the election.
A new Conservative MP used his maiden speech to defend the government’s decision. David Simmonds claimed vulnerable children were “very much in the minds of many members”, but argued it was “absolutely right” that these issues should be dealt with in the new immigration bill instead.
Speaking of his former role leading the national work across local government on the resettlement of refugees in the UK, Simmonds said: “What tends to happen is young people are brought to Britain to be linked up with a distant cousin and in fact, they [end up] in the care system of this country.”
He added that young refugees in the EU are “already within countries that have child protection systems that are very similar, equivalent and in some cases better to our own”.
But Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, said Labour can still “win the moral argument” after its bid to enshrine protections for child refugees in the government’s Brexit agreement failed.
He urged the government to “reconsider” its opposition to his party’s plans, adding that Labour “may not win many votes in this parliament, but we can win the moral argument”.
Downing Street stressed on Thursday that it was ready to begin the next stage of the Brexit process - negotiating a trade deal by the end of the year - on 1 February.
But Brussels’ chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier warned the UK’s market access to the EU could be limited unless it agreed to conditions on state subsidies.
“If the UK wants an open link with us for the products – zero tariffs, zero quotas – we need to be careful about zero dumping at the same time,” he told a conference in Stockholm.
“I hope that this point is and will be correctly understood by everybody. We will ask necessarily certain conditions on state aid policy in the UK.”
He also insisted that Britain’s goal to have a full free trade deal by the end of the year was unrealistic.
“We cannot expect to agree on every aspect of this new partnership,” Barnier said, adding “we are ready to do our best in the 11 months”.