The British parliament is on Wednesday expected to approve Boris Johnson’s Brexit trade deal with Brussels, recasting an often difficult relationship with the EU in a matter of hours.
Mr Johnson will describe the deal as “not a rupture but a resolution”, insisting that Britain would become a reliable friend and partner to the rest of Europe from outside the EU.
Parliament has been recalled for an emergency one-day session to approve the EU-UK trade and co-operation agreement, concluded by Mr Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Christmas Eve, to enable it to come into operation on January 1.
MPs are expected to overwhelmingly back the new deal, which has a “zero tariff, zero quota” trade arrangement at its heart, after a debate opened by Mr Johnson at 9.30am and lasting just a few hours.
The House of Lords is also expected to approve the deal, which includes sections on security and energy co-operation, at breakneck speed. The legislation is expected to reach the Queen for royal assent at around midnight on Wednesday.
The post-Brexit transition deal, which maintained Britain’s membership of the EU single market and customs union even after it had formally left the bloc in January, ends at 11pm UK time on New Year’s Eve. It marks the moment when the UK’s relationship with the rest of Europe will change fundamentally.
In spite of the trade deal, British business will face an estimated £7bn of new red tape and checks when the transition ends on Thursday night. Individual workers and travellers will also face new hurdles.
Mr Johnson expects the majority of Conservative MPs to endorse the agreement after the Eurosceptic European Research Group gave the treaty its backing on Tuesday.
Iain Duncan Smith, a veteran rebel on European issues, told the BBC on Wednesday that the treaty was an “extraordinary” moment that saw Britain reclaim “sovereignty” after more than 45 years of EU membership.
The leader of Britain’s Labour opposition party, Keir Starmer, has also instructed his MPs on the basis that any trade deal is better than no trade deal, in spite of the “thin” nature of an agreement which is focused mainly on exports of goods, not services.
Some Labour MPs may abstain in the Commons vote rather than put their name to legislation which is the capstone for a Brexit project driven by Conservative Eurosceptics.
Rachel Reeves, shadow cabinet office minister, said Mr Johnson “owned” the deal but that the agreement was better than Britain crashing out of the EU’s single market and customs union with no deal at all. “We will vote to bring it into law today,” she said.
Mr Johnson will strike a conciliatory note when he opens the debate, telling MPs: “What we sought was not a rupture but a resolution, a resolution of the old and vexed question of Britain’s political relations with Europe, which bedevilled our postwar history.
“The central purpose of this bill is to accomplish something which the British people always knew in their hearts could be done, but which we were told was impossible — namely that we could trade and co-operate with our European neighbours on the closest terms of friendship and goodwill, whilst retaining sovereign control of our laws and our national destiny.”
Describing Britain’s relationship with the European project — which began when the UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973, he will say: “First we stood aloof, then we became a halfhearted, sometimes obstructive member of the EU.
“Now, with this bill, we shall be a friendly neighbour — the best friend and ally the EU could have.”