London — Lawmakers in Britain passedEU Withdrawal Agreement Bill in principle on Friday, setting the U.K. on course to leave the European Union on January 31. Lawmakers voted by 358 to 234 to back the legislation, after a national election earlier this month delivered Johnson's Conservative Party an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons. The bill will now face further scrutiny in Parliament's lower house in January.
"This is a time when we move on and discard the old labels of 'leave' and 'remain,'" Johnson said at the start of the debate on the bill. "Now is the time to act together as one reinvigorated nation."
The bill is a modified version of the bill Johnson had previously negotiated with the EU, which wasbefore this month's election, when his party didn't have a commanding majority. It commits the U.K. to finishing its trade negotiations with the European Union by the end of 2020, a deadline that some trade experts and EU officials say will be extremely difficult to meet. It also bans lawmakers from extending Britain's transition period out of the EU beyond that point.
Details about Britain's stance going into trade negotiations — even who will lead the talks with the European Union — remain unknown.
"If he fails, the cliff-edge of a no-deal Brexit becomes in just 12 months' time," opposition lawmaker Hillary Ben said.
The new version of the bill removes commitments on workers rights and on unaccompanied children seeking asylum.
The leader of the opposition Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, condemned the bill for the "reckless direction in which the government and the prime minister are determined to take our country."
"There is a better and fairer way for this country to leave the European Union," he continued.
If all goes as expected, EU officials say they expect to ratify the withdrawal bill by January 29.