House of Commons approves Brexit trade deal

House of Commons approves Brexit trade deal
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Lawmakers in the United Kingdom's House of Commons approved the Brexit trade deal between the nation and the European Union to formalize a new relationship between the two sides starting in 2021.

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The chamber’s decision sets up a vote in the House of Lords later Wednesday, where the deal is expected to be approved as well.

The 521-73 vote in the House of Commons comes just ahead of a Thursday deadline. The U.K. will finish its Brexit transition period at 11 p.m. local time Thursday, after which the trade deal’s provisions will officially take effect.

While the deal passed the lower chamber with broad support, it did receive an icy reception from some. Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has voiced harsh disapproval of the agreement, and fishing firms have panned the provisions of the deal regarding European countries' rights to fish in British waters. 

However, ministers in the U.K. and the European Commission were under significant pressure to pass an arrangement, with experts and lawmakers fearing that a “hard Brexit” without any deal would cause economic mayhem on both sides of the English Channel. 

The U.K. officially left the EU on Jan. 31, but it agreed to a transition period during which it would follow the bloc’s rules until the end of 2020 to give it time to continue negotiations to implement a friendlier trade relationship. 

Both sides touted successes during their announcements of the pact last week, noting that they had agreed to a “zero tariff-zero quota deal” that they said worked to minimize disruptions in their trading relationship. The deal followed intense negotiations that had been put on the back burner earlier this year as both sides battled the coronavirus but renewed with vigor ahead of the Thursday deadline.

“We have finally found an agreement. It was a long and winding road, but we have got a good deal to show for it. It is fair, it is a balanced deal, and it is the right and responsible thing to do for both sides,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at a press conference on Thursday.

“We’ve taken back control of our laws and our destiny. We’ve taken back control of every jot and tittle of our regulation in a way that is complete and unfettered,” U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at his own press briefing. “We will be able to set our own standards, to innovate in the way that we want. … We’ll be able to decide how and where we’re going to stimulate new jobs and new hope.”

The deal was also presented to European ministers Friday, and it will have to be ratified by both the European and British parliaments.