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Northern Ireland 'ignored' as MPs back Johnson's Brexit bill, paving way for UK to leave EU in January

MPs have voted by 358 to 234 to pass the Brexit bill, paving the way for the UK to leave the European Union at the end of January.

The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill has cleared its first Commons hurdle since the General Election, after MPs approved giving it a second reading by a majority of 124.

It will see Northern Ireland continue to follow many EU customs rules and rules on food and manufactured goods after the end of the transition period, while the rest of the UK will not, to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Seven DUP MPs voted against the Withdrawal Agreement bill, alongside the two SDLP MPs and the Alliance Party's Stephen Farry.

East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell was not recorded on the division list.

Speaking before the vote, DUP Westminster leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said his party "wanted Brexit to happen", but under the Withdrawal Agreement the UK and EU joint committee would have shared control over key issues on Northern Ireland.

"I want the Prime Minister to treat my part of the UK the same as the other parts in the context of leaving the EU," he told the House.

Sir Jeffrey said the DUP wanted any future Stormont Assembly to have a say on Northern Ireland's relationship with the EU, but that the mechanism must adhere to the "principle of consent" enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement.

The Lagan Valley MP said that he hoped future negotiations with the EU would lead to the removal of the Northern Ireland-only aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement.

He said that it was clear that there would be checks on goods travelling from Great Britain into Northern Ireland and vice versa.

"We would like to be in a position where we can support what is happening, but such is the gravity of our concern about the potential impact on our economy in Northern Ireland.

"Economic prosperity goes hand in hand with political stability in Northern Ireland," Sir Jeffrey said.

"The peace process can't be just about the politics of Northern Ireland, it has to be about prosperity as well. The Prime Minister has said he wants all of the UK to prosper, that has to include Northern Ireland and we need to ensure these arrangements work for Northern Ireland." 

In her maiden speech, SDLP South Belfast MP Claire Hanna said Brexit was "an emergency" and she would work to mitigate it in any way possible.

She said that Brexit had "reopened old wounds" in Northern Ireland.

"It's one of the reasons Northern Ireland has now been without a Government for over 1,000 days," Ms Hanna said.

While she welcomed there being no land border in Ireland, the SDLP MP said she "deeply regretted" the creation of a border in the Irish Sea under the Withdrawal Agreement.

"Brexit upends the delicate balance that, in Northern Ireland, has allowed us to imagine our shared and equal future together," the South Belfast MP said.

Quoting former SDLP leader John Hume, Ms Hanna said that the EU was the "greatest peace building and conflict resolution project anywhere in the world".

She said that she felt concerns around what Brexit meant to Northern Ireland had been dismissed by people who would never have to live with the consequences of the decisions.

Ms Hanna called on MPs to work with Northern Ireland's representatives to limit the damage caused by Brexit.

Mr Farry also spoke against the deal while making his maiden speech in the House of Commons, saying the EU had played a role in establishing peace in Northern Ireland.

The Alliance MP first spoke in Irish, saying he wanted to reflect "the shared heritage of the language across all of the traditions in Northern Ireland".

Mr Farry said he was voting against the bill to honour the wishes of the pro-Remain majority in Northern Ireland.

The North Down MP said the creation of any new border would create a "feeling of winners and losers", which could be "incredibly damaging".

He called on the Prime Minister to "pay particular attention to the needs of Northern Ireland and the damaging implications now set to emerge”.

“Despite coming from different perspectives, there is some common ground across all the parties from Northern Ireland. Together, we speak with an authority to try and mitigate the impact of that proposed boundary, down the Irish Sea" he said.

"Don't be a one nation Prime Minister for England, be a Prime Minister for all four nations of the UK."

MPs also backed the Government's three-day timetable for the remaining stages of the Bill in the Commons next month.

They approved the programme motion by 353 votes to 243, a majority of 110.

After the Withdrawal Agreement Bill becomes law, the Withdrawal Agreement will need to be ratified by the European Parliament next month.

On January 31, Brexit will mark the start of the transition period during which the UK as a whole will continue to follow all the EU's rules and regulations, will remain in the single market and the customs union, and will allow the free movement of people.

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