London: UK lawmakers have approved the post-Brexit trade deal between the country and the European Union (EU) by a large majority, paving the way for an orderly Brexit when the transition period ends on Thursday.
They voted 521-73 to back the trade deal in the House of Commons (lower house of the British Parliament) at its first stage after only five hours of debate on Wednesday, reports Xinhua news agency.
The UK Parliament was recalled on Wednesday morning to put the agreement into British law, one day before the country stops following EU rule.
The EU (Future Relationship) Bill will then pass to the House of Lords (upper house of the British parliament) for their approval, and is expected to pass through all of its required parliamentary stages in a single day on Wednesday.
The UK’s Queen Elizabeth II is expected to give Royal Assent later.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was given a major boost for the pass of the bill as the main opposition Labour Party announced to support the deal.
Although the UK ended its membership of the EU on January 31, 2020, it has followed EU rules during the transition period which will expire at 11 a.m.m on Thursday.
Without this new bill, the UK would enter 2021 with no trade deal with the EU.
Opening the debate in the House of Commons, Johnson told MPs: “We now seize the moment to forge a fantastic new relationship with our European neighbours, based on free trade and friendly cooperation.
“In less than 48 hours, we will leave the EU single market and the customs union, as we promised and yet British exporters will not face a sudden thicket of trade barriers, but rather, for the first time in the history of EU agreements, zero tariffs and zero quotas.
“The central purpose of this bill is to accomplish something that the British people always knew in their hearts could be done, but which we were continually told was impossible.”
Earlier on Wednesday, European Council President Charles Michel and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen both formally signed the trade agreement in Brussels on behalf of the EU.
The signing ceremony was held after the provisional application of the agreement as of January 1, 2021 was approved by the EU member states on Tuesday.
The trade deal will need to be scrutinised by the European Parliament early next year before it is formally ratified by the Council of the EU.
Following the brief ceremony in Brussels, the documents were then flown to London by the RAF for Johnson to put his name to.
The EU and the UK announced on December 24 that they had reached an agreement that will govern bilateral trade and security.
The deal, which came after nine months of arduous negotiations between the UK and the EU, is the biggest bilateral trade deal signed by either side, covering trade worth around 668 billion pounds ($905 billion).
The EU is the UK’s largest trading partner.
The UK is the EU’s third-largest trading partner in goods, following the US and China.
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