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House of Commons passes Brexit bill for UK departure from EU on January 31

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By Alastair Jamieson  & AP
The House of Commons finally passed the Brexit bill
The House of Commons finally passed the Brexit bill   -   Copyright  PA

Britain's House of Commons has voted to pass the Brexit bill — finally paving way for the UK's January 31 departure from the European Union after years of political deadlock.

MPs voted 330-231 to pass the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which will become law once it is approved, as expected, by the upper House of Lords.

The bill's passage is a victory for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has vowed that Britain will leave the EU on the scheduled date.

Britain voted narrowly to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum. But before the Dec. 12 election, lawmakers repeatedly defeated attempts by both Johnson and predecessor Theresa May to secure backing for their Brexit blueprints.

Difficult stage 'yet to come'

But despite Johnson's repeated promise to "get Brexit done" on January 31, the departure will only mark the start of the first stage of the country's EU exit. Britain and the EU will then launch into negotiations on their future relationship, racing to strike new relationships for trade, security and a host of other areas by the end of 2020.

``Leaving the EU doesn't mean that we will have got Brexit done,'' said Paul Blomfield, a Brexit spokesman for the main opposition Labour Party. ``We'll have completed the first step, departure, but the difficult stage is yet to come.``

Top officials in the bloc are already saying that sealing a new deal will be tough.

2020 Brexit deadline

Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, said on Thursday that Britain's goal of striking a full free trade agreement by the end-of-2020 deadline that Johnson insists on was unrealistic.

"We cannot expect to agree on every aspect of this new partnership,'' Barnier said, adding "we are ready to do our best in the 11 months."

Britain and the EU will have to strike deals on everything from trade in goods and services to fishing, aviation, medicines and security. The EU insists there is no way to deal with all these issues in less than a year. British officials have suggested they could carve the negotiations up into chunks, sealing deals one sector at a time.

The two sides also have conflicting demands that are likely to complicate negotiations.

Johnson says the UK is seeking a wide-ranging free trade deal with the bloc, but doesn't want to agree to keep all EU rules and standards. It wants to be free to diverge in order to strike new trade deals around the world.