Boris Johnson faces accusations he has “binned” withdrawal deal promises he made in order to persuade MPs from across the House of Commons to vote for it, before he decided to hold an election rather than allow time for it to be fully debated and scrutinised.
As part of his general election pledge to have Brexit “decided” by Christmas, the Prime Minister brings back the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill for its second reading in the House of Commons on Friday.
But it is a harder Brexit, a harsher bill and one that has erased key vows on safeguarding our human rights and the threat of leaving the EU with no deal.
Before the election, in minority government, Johnson had to placate Labour MPs willing to vote for his withdrawal deal with such assurances. But with an 80-seat majority, the vote on Friday afternoon is expected to pass without a hitch for the Government and lay the ground for a January exit from the EU.
The Conservative Party leader said his Brexit Bill, along with his plans for Government, announced in the Queen’s Speech on Thursday, would bring about a “new dawn” for Britain.
Boris Johnson said: “Today we will deliver on the promise we made to the people and get the Brexit vote wrapped up for Christmas.
“Now MPs will start the process of passing the Bill. Then, at the beginning of the new decade, at the beginning of a new dawn for our country, our parliamentarians will return to Westminster to immediately finish the job, take us out of the EU on January 31 and move this country forward.”
But critics on the opposition benches said Johnson had “binned” his pre-election compromises on protections for our rights at work and child refugees now that he had been “unbridled” by his crushing win at the polls.
Abandoning child refugees
The Government, as part of a re-drafted Brexit Bill, has rowed back on an original commitment to strike a deal with the EU so child refugees in Europe can continue to be reunited with their families in the UK, even after free movement ends.
Clause 37 of the Bill replaces the pledge with a watered-down vow for ministers to “make a statement” on the progress of the talks once the divorce with Brussels is complete.
Senior Labour MP Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the home affairs committee before the general election, said there was “no reason at all” for the Government to alter its original commitment.
“Utterly shameful decision by Government to ditch their responsibility to let lone refugee children re-join their families,” she tweeted.
“Hits the most vulnerable and desperate children. No reason at all for Govt to do this. They chose to. Shows what kind of PM this really is.”
Tearing up protections for British workers
Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, told the Guardian: “The Tories have torn-up the protections for workers’ rights and child refugees – and watered-down Parliament’s role in the next phase of the Brexit negotiations.
“It was a bad Bill before the election, and it is even worse now.”
Acting Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Ed Davey, added: “Barely days away from the election and this Withdrawal Agreement reveals exactly what an unbridled Boris Johnson will do with the country.
“Every compromise made before the election, from workers’ rights to protections for unaccompanied refugee children, have been binned just as we warned they would.”
Downing Street said forthcoming legislation would show the Government’s commitment to upholding rights and protections after exit day.
“Our commitment to continue the highest standards on workers’ rights, environmental standards and consumer protections will be honoured by provisions in separate legislation, including the Employment Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech,” said Number 10.
But there was no explanation about why a host of changes have been made to the Brexit Bill since MPs voted for it on its first reading in the Commons in October.
No-deal Brexit a likelihood again
Boris Johnson has inserted a clause that will legally prohibit his Government from extending the transition period – the 11-month buffer during which his team will look to negotiate a trade deal with Brussels – beyond 2020.
And it also looks like Boris Johnson will ditch the guarantee to give MPs a vote on whether to extend the Brexit transition period at the end of 2020 if Brexit has not been negotiated by then.
The pound plummeted as the news emerged as the consequences of a likely no-deal Brexit once again loomed ahead for British companies. The Financial Times warned businesses fear a cliff edge with such a short time frame.
Trade agreements with just one individual country usually take longer than a year. This month Michel Barnier in a leaked conversation with EU colleagues was heard explaining how that is nowhere near a realistic time frame to renegotiate all the agreements necessary for new relationships between theUK and EU countries.
The transition period between withdrawing from the EU and a a new Brexit deal was designed to prevent a cliff edge for businesses.
The post-Brexit transition period in Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement with the EU ends in December 2020 but can be extended by mutual agreement for up to two years. Why he has chosen to scrap that is a mystery, especially considering the potential damage to UK businesses.
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the move was “reckless and irresponsible” adding that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was “prepared to put people’s jobs at risk”.
Our human rights take a hit
The Bill will be brought before the MPs on Friday. Boris Johnson is keen to rush the Withdrawal Bill through with as little scrutiny as possible and may seek a first and second reading squeezed into a single day.
The legal text will also boost the power of UK courts, giving judges in lower courts the ability to overrule judgments made by the European Court of Justice. Many fear the impact that could have on peoples’ human rights enshrined in EU law.
If passed by MPs, the Brexit Bill will return for its final stages in both the Commons and the House of Lords in the New Year before achieving Royal Assent.
The timetable paves the way for the UK to leave the EU by the January 31 deadline and for trade talks to commence.