'Battle for Brexit is won', MPs claim, as Boris Johnson's deal clears the Commons

MPs have backed the Government’s Brexit deal with the EU by 521 votes to 73 as Sir Keir Starmer claimed MPs who opposed Boris Johnson’s “thin” Brexit deal are hiding “in the knowledge that others will save you from the consequences”.

A number of Labour MPs did not record a vote on the deal despite Sir Keir urging his party to back it.

These included Yorkshire MPs Richard Burgon (Leeds East), Dame Diana Johnson (Hull North), and Olivia Blake (Sheffield Hallam).

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Speaking before the vote, Sir Keir said: “There’s only one choice today, which is to vote for implementing this deal or to vote for no deal.

Handout photo issued by UK Parliament of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Theresa May during the debate in the House of Commons on the EU (Future Relationship) Bill. Photo: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

“Those that vote no, are voting for no deal.

“This is the nub of it: those voting no today want yes. They want others to save them from their own vote. Voting no, wanting yes, that’s the truth of the situation and that’s why my party has taken a different path.”

Opening the debate in the Commons, the Prime Minister said the deal would enable the UK to trade and co-operate with the EU on the “closest possible terms” while taking “sovereign control of our laws and our national destiny”.

He said he hoped it would end the “old, desiccated, tired, super-masticated arguments” which have dogged the country for years and enable it to move forwards to a “new and great future”.

“It embodies our vision shared with our European neighbours of a new relationship between Britain and the EU as sovereign equals joined by friendship, commerce, history interests and values while respecting one another’s freedom of action,” he said.

“We are going to open a new chapter in our national story, striking free trade deals around the world and reasserting global Britain as a liberal, outward-looking force for good.”

But Sir Keir said he would have negotiated a “better” deal than Mr Johnson, adding: “When the default is no deal it’s not a mark of how pro-European you are to reject implementing this treaty.”

But former Prime Minister Theresa May said: “I welcome this deal and I will be supporting it today and I welcome the fact that the official Opposition will be supporting this deal, but I did listen with some incredulity to what the leader of the Opposition said.

“He said he wanted a better deal. He had the opportunity in early 2019 when there was the opportunity of a better deal on the table and he voted against it, so I will take no lectures from the leader of the Opposition on this deal.”

Huddersfield Labour MP Barry Sheerman said although a better deal could have been secured, the one reached was “a much better deal that [he] expected”.

He said: “I will be supporting it in the division lobbies [...] but I will say this is the time for the renewal of the European spirit.”

“We must build on it if we are going to make this world a safer place, a more secure place.”

While Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford Labour MP Yvette Cooper said there were “further urgent things we need government to do now to support jobs and security”.

She said: “This is not the deal that the Prime Minister promised everyone on services, which are left out, on red tape, which will go up, and on security cooperation, which will go down - and he should level with people about those problems not make impossible promises.

And she added: “The ultimate test of the Prime Minister's deal and future plan is what he uses it for, whether to strengthen the United Kingdom, or to divide and destroy it.”

But former Brexit Secretary and Haltemprice and Howden Conservative MP David Davis said the day marked “a new beginning for our country, there's no doubt about that.”

He said: “In two days, our freedom and our sovereignty will be much greater than it was as a result of this treaty.

“And I'll say this treaty is better, much better, than would have been achieved under the previous strategy. Why do I say that? Well, the Prime Minister, and or David Frost did a fantastic job on delivering this, and they delivered it by standing up the European Union and calling their bluff successfully, time and time again, and delivering an outcome which we can make the most of.”

Leeds Central Labour MP Hilary Benn, who is also the chairman of the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, said he was voting for the deal as the alternative would be a no deal.

“This is not a vote about whether we support Brexit, I do not, but it's happened. ” he said.

“This is a vote about making a bit better of a bad job.”

Two junior shadow ministers – Helen Hayes and Tonia Antoniazzi – announced they were resigning their posts on the Labour front bench as they could not support the agreement.

All the other opposition parties opposed the agreement – including the DUP, which backed Brexit but objects to provisions which mean Northern Ireland will still be subject to some EU rules.

But Tory Eurosceptics were jubilant, declaring that the “battle for Brexit” had finally been won.

Veteran Sir Bill Cash said: “Like Alexander the Great, Boris has cut the Gordian Knot.”

Mark Francois, one of the self-styled Spartans who held out against Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal agreement, said they could now “lower our spears”.

Earlier in the day, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel formally signed the agreement.

Following the brief ceremony in Brussels, the documents were then flown to London by the RAF for Mr Johnson to put his name to.

Mr Michel said: “The agreement that we signed today is the result of months of intense negotiations in which the European Union has displayed an unprecedented level of unity.

“It is a fair and balanced agreement that fully protects the fundamental interests of the European Union and creates stability and predictability for citizens and companies.”

Leeds West Labour MP Rachel Reeves said that Boris Johnson’s “limited” deal is better than having no deal at all.

She told the Commons: “It is not about whether you wanted to remain or leave. It’s not about whether you think this deal is good enough, we know that it isn’t. But voting for this deal now is the only way to avoid no deal.”

Ms Reeves added: “There are now just two paths ahead for our country. Down one is the Prime Minister’s limited and unimpressive deal with the European Union.

“But down the other is the chaos of ending the transition period with no deal at all which would mean substantial tariffs and barriers to trade and no agreement on security co-operation.

“There is no other option now and to abstain is to fail to choose, to suggest somehow that we are indifferent between these two paths before us.

“I am not, I don’t believe other members are either. This is Johnson’s deal, where neither option is ideal but a limited deal is better than no deal at all and it is a foundation upon which we can build.”

The Bill now goes to the House of Lords, where the debate is expected to continue until around 10.30pm.

If, as expected, it passes the upper chamber, it will then go to the Queen for royal assent, with an announcement expected around midnight.

That would pave the way for the deal to take effect at 11pm on Thursday when the current Brexit transition period, during which the UK has continued to follow EU rules, ends.