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Royal Assent means Brexit all set for New Year’s Day

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Queen Elizabeth II’s Royal Assent to the Brexit Bill passed speedily through both Houses of Parliament on Wednesday means the UK is all set to officially exit the European Union (EU), with New Year’s Day on Friday marking what UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has dubbed as a “new beginning”.

Johnson thanked parliamentarians and peers for passing the European Union (Future Relationship) Bill in one day, in a statement urging the nation to “seize” the moment when the transition period with the 27-member economic bloc comes to an end at 2300 GMT on Thursday.

“The destiny of this great country now resides firmly in our hands. We take on this duty with a sense of purpose and with the interests of the British public at the heart of everything we do,” said Johnson.

“11 pm on December 31 marks a new beginning in our country’s history and a new relationship with the EU as their biggest ally. This moment is finally upon us and now is the time to seize it,” he said.

The House of Lords gave the bill an unopposed “third reading” late on Wednesday during a special recall of Parliament from its Christmas break, allowing MPs to debate and then pass the bill 521 votes to 73 – an overwhelming majority of 448. It comes four-and-a-half years after the Brexit referendum vote to take the UK out of the EU in June 2016, a period marked by serial resignations and parliamentary defeats faced by Johnson’s predecessors Theresa May and David Cameron.

“I think frankly we got Brexit done, let’s keep Brexit done… and let’s press ahead with this government’s mission to unite and level-up across our whole country and grasp the opportunities before us,” said Johnson, who had won a majority in a general election in December 2019 on the pledge of getting Brexit done.

The Opposition Labour Party failed to amend the bill to include additional protections for workers’ rights and environmental standards and support for business preparedness. Labour leader Keir Starmer described the deal as “thin”, but said Labour would back it because the alternative would be devastating for the UK.

The parliamentary backing came after the trade pact struck between the two sides was formally signed and flown down from Brussels to the UK. Johnson then added his formal signature to the free trade agreement for it to come into force for the New Year.

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