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Boris Johnson's Brexit Bill – An Explainer For Those Too Afraid To Ask

Late last year, Boris marked his election promise to “get Brexit done” by writing into law that Brexit would happen on 31 January.

December saw a historic milestone achieved for Brexiteers – as Boris Johnson's Brexit Bill received backing by a huge majority in Westminster. 

Johnson's Withdrawal Agreement passed its second reading comfortably by 358 votes to 234 which left the UK on course to leave the European Union by January 31. 

"We will be able to move forward together," Boris told Westminster at the time. 

"The Bill ensures that the implementation period must end on January 31 with no possibility of an extension.

"And it paves the path for a new agreement on our future relationship with our European neighbours based on an ambitious free-trade agreement, with no alignment... on EU rules, but instead control of our own laws and close and friendly relations.

"This vision of the United Kingdom's independence, a vision that inspires so many, is now if this Parliament, this new Parliament allows, only hours from our grasp.

"The oven is on, so to speak, it is set at gas mark 4, we can have it done by lunchtime or late lunch."

He urged parliament to eschew bipartisan party lines and allow the "warmth and natural affection that we all share" for the UK's European neighbours to "find renewed expression in one great new national project".

"This is the time when we move on and discard the old labels of Leave and Remain," Johnson added. 

"In fact, the very words seem tired to me - as defunct as Big-enders and Little-enders, or Montagues and Capulets at the end of the play."

Boris Johnson's Withdrawal Agreement

Late last year, Boris marked his election promise to “get Brexit done” by writing into law that Brexit would happen on 31 January.

While it would have been within his power to ultimately reverse it, it hasn't. 

From today on, a "transition period" (which will continue until December 2020) will follow where despite the UK having left the EU, a number of things will stay the same until new rules are laid down. 

The purpose of the period is to enable a new wave of UK-EU negotiations to take place. Both parties have already outlined their broad aspirations, in a lengthy 27-page document known as the political declaration.

Customs Union

As per the deal, the whole of the UK will leave the EU customs union. This is an agreement between EU countries not to charge taxes (called tariffs) on things coming from other EU countries, and to charge the same tariffs as each other on things coming from outside the EU.

Leaving the customs union means that the UK will be able to strike trade deals with other countries in the future.

Legally, there will be a customs border between Northern Ireland (which stays in the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (which stays in the EU), but in practice, things won't be checked on that border.

Goods travelling between Northern Ireland and the Republic will effectively be checked "points of entry" into Northern Ireland, where taxes will only be paid if those products are considered "at risk" of then being transported into the Republic of Ireland.

A joint committee made up of UK and EU representatives will decide at a later date what goods are considered "at risk".


Johnson's agreement also states that EU law on VAT will apply in Northern Ireland, but only on goods, not services.

This means that Northern Ireland may get the same VAT rates on certain goods as the Republic of Ireland, to stop there being an unfair advantage on either side of the border.

Freedom of Movement

UK citizens in the EU, and EU citizens in the UK, will retain their residency and social security rights after Brexit.

Freedom of movement rules will continue to apply during the transition.

This means that UK nationals will be able to live and work in EU countries (and EU nationals will be able to live and work in UK) during this period.

Anyone who remains in the same EU country for five years will be allowed to apply for permanent residence.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn labelled the government's handling of Brexit as a "national embarrassment" since 2016, as he said his party "recognises the clear message" from voters at the election but confirmed Labour would not support the bill.

He said Johnson was offering a "terrible" Brexit deal, adding: "Labour will not support this bill as we remain certain there is a better and fairer way for this country to leave the European Union.

"One which would not risk ripping our communities apart, selling out our public services or sacrificing hundreds of thousands of jobs in the process.

"This deal is a road map for the reckless direction in which the government and our Prime Minister are determined to take our country."

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