LONDON – Britain moved a step closer to its Jan. 31 exit from the European Union when the legislation required to ratify its deal with Brussels passed its final stage in Parliament on Wednesday, bringing an end to more than three years of wrangling in Parliament over Britain’s EU exit.
The bill will officially become law when it receives royal assent from Queen Elizabeth II, something that could happen as soon as Thursday.
“At times it felt like we would never cross the Brexit finish line, but we’ve done it,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement. “Parliament has passed the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, meaning we will leave the EU on 31 January and move forwards as one United Kingdom.”
Earlier Wednesday, 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. The House of Lords had also tried to amend the legislation to enhance EU citizens’ rights in Britain and to allow judges — rather than ministers — to decide on the use of rulings by European courts.
Johnson had refused to accept any changes to the bill, which will enact Britain’s departure from the EU, facing down opposition lawmakers who say he has hardened its terms.
The Lords could have sought to reinstate the changes, but opted not to, allowing the legislation to clear its final hurdle in Britain.
The passage of the law vindicates Johnson’s gamble to call an election last month in which he asked voters to back his blueprint for leaving the bloc Jan. 31. His 80-seat majority in the elected House of Commons meant he could sweep aside objections from pro-EU politicians in the upper chamber and break the deadlock that cost his predecessor, Theresa May, her job last year.
The agreement with the EU will now need to be formally ratified by the European Parliament next Wednesday.
After the U.K. leaves the bloc it will enter a transition period, scheduled to last until the end of the year, during which it will continue to be bound by EU laws until it negotiates a new trade deal with the remaining 27 member states.
Johnson is expected to sign the agreement in the coming days, and the European Council and European Commission presidents may sign it Friday in Brussels, according to a U.K. government official.
“We’re in a very happy position in that we leave the EU in a position of absolute grace and uniformity,” Johnson said as he answered questions from the public about the future negotiations with Brussels on Facebook. “We are in perfect alignment with our EU friends and partners.”
Looking ahead, Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid acknowledged Johnson’s Dec. 31 deadline for reaching a new trade deal with the EU was “tight.”
“Both sides recognize that it’s a tight timetable, a lot needs to be put together in the time that we have, but it can be done,” Javid said during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “And it can be done for both goods, where we want to see free trade, zero tariffs, zero quotas — but also on services.”