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Brexit: What happens now?

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Brexit: What happens now?
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Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved - Kirsty Wigglesworth
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a commanding majority in the UK election on December 13 with his pledge to: ‘Get Brexit Done’.

Now, as MPs return from the Christmas break, Johnson has to make good on that promise.

He plans to do so in just three days. The prime minister already won votes for his European Union (Withdrawal) Bill in its first and second reading on 19 and 20 December. Now he needs to get the bill ratified and passed through the House of Commons.

What happens now?

On Tuesday 7 January, the Brexit Bill will go back before the House of Commons for a third and final time.

MPs will have the opportunity to introduce amendments to the bill, with Labour expected to lodge at least two: the first to get a guarantee on the rights of workers after Brexit, and secondly to extend the transitional period beyond the end of 2020.

But with his commanding majority in parliament, Johnson should have no problem in overturning any unwanted amendments, which could be voted on as early as Thursday. Then, the bill will go to the House of Lords.

Lords can - as they did with former Prime Minister Theresa May’s ill-fated Brexit bill in 2019 - impose amendments, but these need to be approved by the Commons, where Johnson’s majority will again kick in.

Over to you, Europe.

Once the bill passes the House of Commons, the ball is in Europe’s court. The withdrawal agreement still needs to be approved by the European Parliament, where it only needs a simple majority of MEPs to pass.

A spokesperson for the European Parliament told Euronews that providing the bill is passed by the 25 January, it can be voted on four days later on 29 January by MEPs.

Johnson, therefore, will achieve his election pledge to take Britain out of the EU by January 31. Britain and the EU will enter a ‘transition period’ which - currently - lasts until the end of December 2020.

Theoretically, the EU and Britain need to secure a trade deal before the end of 2020, something that European officials and critics of the government have said is practically impossible. Labour want to see that period extended, but Johnson has ruled it out.

A solution mooted by both sides is a so-called 'bare bones' Brexit, whereby the UK and the EU agree terms on goods, with no tariffs and no quotas for trade between Britain and Europe. Everything else is shelved for future trade talks, which could take many more months - or years - to conclude.

What could go wrong?

Lots could go wrong. There are major sticking points between the UK and the EU on issues such as fishing, with eight EU states currently fishing in UK waters and keen for that access to be retained.

But with the UK fishing industry central to the debate over Brexit, it will be a difficult concession for Boris to make.

"It will be the major stumbling block even in a bare bones deal," said Nick Witney, at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “Boris will have to back down."

Then there is a the fact that as well as being approved by the EU, a future trade deal will need to be approved by each individual member state, and in some cases regional parliaments.

So what does that mean for the rest of us?

Until December - or longer if the transition period is extended - little should change for European nationals in the UK or British nationals living overseas, say experts.

“[During] the transition period the status quo for the UK is maintained, so we will be subject to EU rules and will be treated for the purposes of EU free trade agreement as if we are still a member state,” Caroline Turnbull-Hall, Director Corporate Affairs, Regulation and Legal Issues, at PwC told Euronews.

“We will have 11 months where we will be treated as a member state but we won’t have a voice in Europe.”

READ MORE: Brexit - How did we get here?

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