Brexit Takes A Big Step Forward With Win In Parliament For Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson's Brexit Plan scored a big win in Parliament, which makes a January 31st Brexit essentially inevitable.

Photo via Vox

Fresh off a big win in the British elections last week and the State Opening of Parliament yesterday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson scored his first big win in Parliament, and perhaps the biggest win of as Prime Minister to date, with a victory in the House of Commons for his Brexit plan:

LONDON — With a boisterous majority of Conservative lawmakers hooting and hurrahing behind him, Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday won Parliament’s backing for his Brexit deal, allowing him to forge ahead with his promise that Britain will finally leave the European Union next month.

Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill should take the country out of the E.U. by the end of January, after expected approval in the House of Lords and final ratification in the weeks ahead. Then comes an 11-month “transition period” — an ambitiously tight timeframe to allow Britain and the E.U. to hammer out trade, security, migration and other aspects of their new relationship.

While campaigning, Johnson often boasted that the withdrawal deal he secured with European leaders in October was “oven ready.” On Friday, he urged lawmakers: “The oven is on. It is set at gas mark 4. We can have it done by lunch or late lunch.”

The vote result, tallied in the early afternoon, was 358 to 234.

Gone, gone are the late-night crunch votes that confronted Johnson’s predecessor as prime minister, Theresa May. Undermined, challenged and bucked by “remainers,” Tory rebels and arch-Brexiteers in her own party, she had to face the ignominy of seeing her Brexit deal repeatedly voted down in Parliament.


But it is approximately 95 percent his predecessor’s deal — with the exception that Johnson caved to European demands to find a way to protect at all cost a peace accord in Ireland.

Johnson did what May swore no British prime minister would do, which was to allow for a regulatory and customs border within the United Kingdom. In Johnson’s deal, that new border runs down the Irish Sea.

No matter. Johnson now has the votes, and he does not need to kowtow to his former governing partners in the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, who have complained the prime minister tossed them under the bus and that this deal endangers the union.

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn called the deal “terrible” and said his side would not back it. “This deal is a road map for the reckless direction in which the government and the prime minister are determined to take the country,” he said. 

Corbyn charged that Johnson’s vision for Brexit would be “used as a battering ram to drive us down the path of yet more deregulation and towards a toxic deal with Donald Trump.”

More from The Guardian:

Britain has taken a pivotal step towards leaving the European Union as Boris Johnson was rewarded for the Conservatives’ thumping general election victory with a majority of 124 for his Brexit deal in the House of Commons.

Addressing MPs on Friday morning, the prime minister sought to draw a line under three years of bitter parliamentary conflict, urging his colleagues to “discard the old labels of leave and remain”.

After comfortably passing its second reading by 358 votes to 234, the withdrawal agreement bill is on track to complete its passage through both houses of parliament in time to allow Brexit to happen at the end of January.

Charles Michel, the president of the European council, welcomed the vote, tweeting that it was an “important step in the article 50 ratification process”. He added: “A level playing field remains a must for any future relationship,” referring to the EU’s demand for fair competition in exchange for a free-trade agreement with zero tariffs and zero quotas.

Johnson claimed that pressing ahead with Brexit would “allow the warmth and natural affection that we all share with our European neighbours to find renewed expression in one great new national project of building a deep, special and democratically accountable partnership with those nations we are proud to call our closest friends”.

If the next stages at Westminster go to plan, the European parliament is expected to ratify the withdrawal agreement on 29 January, paving the way for the UK to leave the bloc two days later.

Jeremy Corbyn said Labour would continue to oppose the government’s Brexit deal, but six Labour MPs defied the party whip and voted with the government, and around 20 more deliberately abstained, including the shadow housing secretary, John Healey.

In a statement on his website published shortly after the vote, Healey said: “In a Brexit referendum and a Brexit election the public have now been clear, and so should Labour: our fight must be about the type of Brexit and the huge difference between Labour and Conservative visions of our economy. Any question about whether Brexit goes ahead has been closed

All of this comes at the end of a long and tumultuous year for the United Kingdom that has taken the nation through a series of political crises that brought down a Prime Minister and resulted in the political resurrection of a Conservative Party leader who had spent years on the outside of party politics. At the start of the year, British Prime Minister Theresa May quickly faced a political crisis when her own deal designed to complete Brexit by the end of March was rejected by a historic margin that included many of her own Conservative MPs, many of whom later tried unsuccessfully to remove her from office. Eventually, May’s efforts to get Brexit done proved to be so difficult that the March deadline was pushed to April, and later to the end of October. By June, May was forced to recognize that she’d be unable to get any deal through the House of Commons, which caused her to step down as Conservative Party leader.

With the summer largely taken up with the campaign to succeed May, there was basically no progress on Brexit for much of the rest of the summer until Johnson was finally named party leader. At the start of his tenure, it looked as if Johnson might suffer the same fate as May as his own Brexit plan was rejected by Parliament. After that, the new Prime Minister attempted to push an October 31st Brexit through an extraordinary suspension of Parliament only to be rebuked by the House of Commons. Johnson’s suspension of Parliament was subsequently declared illegal by the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court. As a result, Johnson was handed a number of political defeats that resulted in his having to request yet another delay in Brexit with the restriction that there could be no “hard” no-deal Brexit without the consent of Parliament.

That’s where the situation stood until Johnson called the latest election, which he hoped would lead to a big enough Conservative Party win to allow him to get his plan through. That’s exactly what happened, of course, and now the nation is on course to leave the European Union on schedule by January 31st, 2020. That won’t be the end of the process, of course. There will still be a trade deal to hammer out and the Irish border issue to officially resolve, but these matters will be much easier to resolve with this win behind him.

All of this will strengthen Johnson’s political hand at least temporarily. He campaigned on getting Brexit done, and that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Whether this leads to the great future that Brexiteers promise remains to be seen, though, and in the end, Johnson’s fate will be determined by the impact Brexit has on the United Kingdom. If the impact is largely positive then Johnson could go down as the most consequential Conservative Party Prime Minister since Margaret Thatcher. If the impact is negative then things could end up going badly for both Johnson and the Conservatives in the future. For now, though, this is a big win for Johnson.

FILED UNDER: Brexit, United Kingdom, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. Kathy says:

    It’s a lot easier to break something than to put it back together.

    So it took 3+ years for Britain to leave the EU. How long will it take them to rejoin?

  2. HarvardLaw92 says:

    The Scottish Parliament completed approval of authorizing another independence referendum, this cueing up the next fight. SNP did exactly what the voters of Scotland sent them there to do.

    It begins.

  3. Neil Hudelson says:


    Johnson will likely be in office for 5+ years. I doubt he will allow such an independence referendum. I wonder how much of this surge of support for independence is pique, and how much can be sustained or grown. Thinking back to how the world looked in December 2014, a lot can change in an electorate in 5 years.

  4. @HarvardLaw92:

    The actions of the Scottish Parliament vis a vis a referendum are irrelevant. Any referendum would need the permission of the U.K. Parliament and that is not going to happen as long as the Tories are in power, which could be until as late as December 2024.

    Additionally, current polling on Scottish independence shows the issue to be basically evenly divided, with “No” holding a lead of roughly three percentage points.

    More importantly, an independent Scotland would be economically unviable. Without the subsidy that Edinburgh recieves annually from the UK, the nation would be roughly $80 Billlion in the hole unless it made drastic cuts in its welfare state.

  5. @Neil Hudelson:

    Johnson has already said no to another independence referendum.

  6. CSK says:

    Sorry to trivialize the discussion, but I wish this schmuck would get a decent coiffure. He looks like a dandelion gone to seed. If he’s doing it deliberately, which I assume he is, that makes it all the more annoying.

  7. de stijl says:

    It’s so painful to watch.

    Why are you hurting yourself on purpose? It ‘s crazy!

  8. sam says:

    Dear Boris: You brexit, you own it.

  9. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I said nothing more than the fight begins. I neither said it would actually happen nor that it would be economically feasible (although there is some disagreement about that point). I’m enjoying that simple thing – the fight – for its own sake primarily because I just don’t really care for English arrogance. Anything that causes Westminster pain is worth grabbing some popcorn and watching.

    I’d also be interested in seeing your sourcing on this $80 billion number, as it’s larger than the entire public expenditure for Scotland altogether. Every stat I can find places that figure closer to £12.6 bn, and even that presumes that Scotland would retain a share of North Sea oil revenue proportional to its population ratio with the UK. This is difficult to defend given that the bulk of those fields post-independence would lie in Scottish territorial waters, not English.

    This seems to be an emotional issue for you, given your vociferous defense … 😀

  10. @HarvardLaw92:

    Except for the fact that it seems obvious that the entire independence idea is based largely in the SNP’s political ambitions I don’t really find the story all that interesting. Especially since it is obviously not going to happen.Nonetheless, this appears to be an issue again thanks to Nicola Sturgeon’s lust for political power so…………..

    I’ll have to check the figures but I do recall several studies during the 2014 referendum showing that an independent Scotland could not survive without significant reductions in its welfare state.

    As for the North Sea oil, the continued drops in oil prices, thanks to things like the development of LNG as a fuel alternative, the increased production of oil fields in North Dakota and Canada thanks to fracking and other technology, and other factors makes any plan for independence that relies on oil revenue as a primary source dubious at best. Reliance on oil is what has turned Russia into a second-world nation.

    An independent Scotland would be one of the sick men of Europe, right up there with Greece. Because of that and the fact that several nations would be reluctant to take any step that would encourage similar moves at home (See e.g, Spain), there is a good chance they would not get an invitation to join the EU.

  11. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    That’s a somewhat odd observation to be making. It seems the opposite to me: if SNP’s independence platform didn’t resonate with the voters, it wouldn’t control about half of the seats in the Scottish parliament or 48 of the 59 Scottish constituencies in Westminster. The fact that it does suggests that A whole lot of Scots agree with its platform.

    As for the rest, yea, I get it. You think it’s a bad idea. Noted.

    The Scots seem to have a different viewpoint about it

  12. Slugger says:

    What does the UK make that it sells in the EU? How will that market be impacted? I guess some Brexit supporters believe that this will result in more control over immigrants; is it known whether the proverbial Polish plumbers or other non-Brit born workers are harmful to the economy? I guess we will find out in the next few years.
    If I lived in London, I’d book New Year’s Eve reservations in Paris before travel hassles kick in, and I’d bring back about seven cases of champagne.

  13. @HarvardLaw92:

    Again, polling suggests that independence is at best a 50-50 issue in Scotland. Hardly a mandate for revolution.

    As for the success of the SNP last Thursday that appears to largely due to the collapse of Labour under the utterly worthless Jeremy Corbyn. The same thing happened in the 2015 election. In 2017, the SNP lost about 25 of those seats.

  14. grumpy realist says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Spelling error in title, Doug. “Foward”?

    Also, supposedly Scotland is gradually moving towards other renewable energy sources (tidal and wind) to the point that they may become totally energy-independent and can in fact sell electricity.

  15. Kathy says:


    Brexit, which is a big step backward, takes a big step forward.

    Or does that mean it stands still?

  16. sam says:


    “What does the UK make that it sells in the EU?”

    I read someplace that the situation now is something like this. In the early morning, a restaurant in Paris orders some specialty vegetables from a farm in the UK. The UK farmer loads the vegetables on his truck, drives straight through to Paris via the Chunnel, and the restaurant has the vegetables in time for lunch Paris time.

    That, and similar instances of ease of exchange, will be the stuff of nostalgia in the UK.

  17. Sleeping Dog says:


    There is very little that the UK provides the EU that isn’t available elsewhere in the EU, so the hassle of border controls will diminish the attractiveness of UK based sources.

  18. Barry says:

    @Kathy: “So it took 3+ years for Britain to leave the EU. How long will it take them to rejoin?”

    At least 20. The existing old rural coots who wanted Brexit will have to die off; the UK media will have to change from sh*tting on the EU with ever word. The political structures in the UK will have to change so that the leadership of the EU countries can trust the UK. Meanwhile, powerful interests in the USA will have gotten their hooks deeply into Airstrip One.

    On the EU side, they’ll be struggling with FascIntern members for a while.

    Hmmmmmm. Maybe ’20’ should be changed to ‘never’.

  19. Barry says:

    @Neil Hudelson: “Johnson will likely be in office for 5+ years. I doubt he will allow such an independence referendum. I wonder how much of this surge of support for independence is pique, and how much can be sustained or grown. Thinking back to how the world looked in December 2014, a lot can change in an electorate in 5 years.”

    As you pointed out, 5 years can be a long time. January 31, 2014 to January 31, 2020 is the difference between Brexit being a fringe idea to having taken over and accomplished[1].

    Assuming that (a) a dominating Tory government will openly screw Scotland and (b) that Brexit will cause pain for the majority of people in the UK, Scexit will look better and better.

    [1] Or rather, the initial divorce papers being signed. The aftermath should take a decade.

  20. Barry says:

    @sam: “That, and similar instances of ease of exchange, will be the stuff of nostalgia in the UK.”

    On Tuesday, a UK flower shop orders flowers from their wholesaler (in Holland). Fresh-cut flowers are sorted and binned in large warehouses on a 24-hour basis. A truck leaves early in the morning/late at night; the flowers are at the shop’s doorstep when it opens on Wednesday.

    When it’s cold in the UK, vegetables move from Spain, Italy and Southern France to the UK in about a 48 hour supply line from farm to Tesco store (or restaurant).

    A lamb is slaughtered in Wales on Monday; it’s served in a French restaurant on Tuesday, or is in the French stores on Wednesday.

  21. Lounsbury says:

    @Kathy: 200. Neither England nor EU will move to get back together again in the lifetimes of anyone alive now today. England likely will become a Swiss/Norway to the Continent within 15-20 years, but full rejoin, not going to happen in any foreseeable future.

    Re SNP: their bound forward is very much based on the Remain position. Doubtful full independence will be a sustained strong position but it rather depends on what Boris’ Brexit looks like. Some possibility of English nationalist fever really breaking the Union.

  22. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Because I have Scottish blood, I know their pride meant that they would have to slap back at the English, but I wonder about an independent Scotland’s economic vitality. Now, if they could somehow work out a plan of union with Northern Ireland and the Republic, THAT might be interesting.

  23. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Doug Mataconis: You seem to resent people having the temerity to disagree with you. Case in point, you responded three times to Harvard Law’s comment. And yet, your whole statement appears to be “you’re wrong because…reasons! That’s why!” when you could just have disagreed and let it go at that.

    Is it a lawyer thing? Not wanting anyone else to have the last word? I know that in my case it’s an arrogance thing, but I try to avoid transferring my own faults onto others. (But I’m not very good at it 🙁 )

  24. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: I think it’s the whole “war is peace/freedom is slavery” thing brought into real life–“backward is forward.” Doubleplus good!

  25. grumpy realist says:

    The nerfballs over at the DT are peeing themselves with glee at Boris’s wild promises about not lining up anything with the EU. They’re still hoping for a no-deal Brexit…..(The fact that Trump has basically crippled the WHO just flies completely over their heads.)

    The people over at EUreferendum are far more realistic about the brick wall that Boris is aiming the U.K. into.

  26. Barry says:

    @grumpy realist: What is the ‘DT’?

  27. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    To be fair, I was tweaking his nose a little because he seems to be emotionally invested in preservation of the UK. To also be fair, I have a pronounced distaste for English establishment arrogance relative to NI, Scotland, and Wales, so anything that gets that English nose out of joint calls for popcorn and scotch. That said, we lawyers like to have fun with each other too, so we did.

    He’s not really wrong, if we assume that Brexit goes off without a hitch, tomorrow continues to look like today for the British consumer, trade remains stable, and the Tories don’t act like Tories for the next five years.

    Anybody want to lay the odds? 😀

  28. HarvardLaw92 says:


    The Daily Telegraph, also pejoratively known as the Daily Tory 🙂

  29. Barry says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Ah.

  30. JohnSF says:

    Mister Late-as-Ever here again:
    Irony is that the more the UK diverges from Europe on trade terms, the worse the economic damage, and the greater the emotional gain for independence.

    At the same time, such divergence would mean that even if an independent Scotland were to be immediately granted EU membership (unlikely?) or EEA/CA arrangement (more probable) it would then have major problems trading with England, which is a massive slice of the Scottish economy.

    The course of the next few years looks to be: UK government will bluntly refuse a referendum, on the grounds that the IndyRef was supposed to be a “once in a lifetime” event, and combined unionist votes greater than SNP.

    Sturgeon may be checked for the time being, but will counter by driving hard for a SNP vote absolute majority in Scotttish Parliament elections scheduled for May 2021. Helped by the damaged state of both Conservatives and Labour in Scotland.

    And as a prelude to that will work to raise as many Scottish grievances as possible.

    A fertile area for that will be the UK/EU trade talks.
    e.g. fishing rights: SNP is already complaining both about
    – potential loss of EU markets for fish
    – any concessions to EU being granted by Westminster, to prevent such market loss
    – beginning to float ideas of restricting English access to Scottish waters

    Johnson and the Vote Leave Team face in Sturgeon a political operator every bit as determined, unscrupulous and adept as themselves.

    If SNP get the absolute majority in 2021 it really will be game on.

  31. JohnSF says:

    Scottish independence is certainly a possibility.
    However, what I would rate as a probability is Irish unification.

    It is interesting how little attention has been paid to the historic landmark in Northern Ireland: nationalists won more seats than unionists. (Overlooking the very real differences between Sinn Fein and SDLP; and counting Alliance as “neutral”).
    Sinn Fein took 7, SDLP have 2; against the DUP with 7; and the “cross community” centrist Alliance Party hold 1.

    The nationalist vote share was less dramatic, at 31.7% combined SF/SDLP, while DUP/UUP have 42.3%, Alliance 16.8%

    But the DUP are in a state of shock.
    They have lost their leverage on the government, they have effectively been betrayed by Johnson over Irish trade fallback (but are keeping uncharacteristically quiet about it in public) and have fallen out badly with the Conservative Party at large.
    They are now scrambling to try to reach an agreement with Sinn Fein that will restore devolved government at Stormont without humiliating themselves too much.

    If Johnson does not achieve a deal that aligns UK very closely to the EU there is going to be a trade border between NI and Britain that will have a significant economic effect, and a massive impact on political psychology.

    If UK govt. bungles this, Irish unification looks likely within a decade.