The House of Commons voted down Theresa May’s Brexit deal on Tuesday night in an unprecedented rejection of the government’s flagship policy that drastically worsens the political crisis in Westminster.
Her withdrawal agreement was opposed by 432 votes to 202, a historic margin of 230, which surpasses the previous record on a vote contested by the government set by Ramsay MacDonald’s minority Labour government in 1924 when it lost by 166 votes.
For the first time in history, more than 400 MPs voted against the government in the Commons.
In one of the largest postwar rebellions, 118 Conservative MPs opposed the deal.
The Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn immediately called a vote of no confidence in the government tomorrow. The Democratic Unionist Party, which opposed the Brexit deal, said it would support the government in the confidence vote. While May is expected to survive, defeat tomorrow could force a general election.
After the crushing defeat, the PM told the Commons she would not resign. “It is clear that the House does not support this deal. But tonight’s vote tells us nothing about what it does support. Nothing about how — or even if — it intends to honour the decision the British people took in a referendum Parliament decided to hold,” she said.
Responding, Corbyn told parliament: “This is a catastrophic defeat for this government. After two years of failed negotiations, the House of Commons has delivered its verdict on her Brexit deal and that verdict is absolutely decisive.”
The PM's official spokesperson later told journalists the government would reach out to senior parliamentarians in an attempt to ensure that the UK leaves with a deal, but signalled it would not offer the permanent customs union sought by Labour.
Corbyn's spokesperson said Labour would continue to push for an election and may bring forward subsequent confidence motions if tomorrow's vote is unsuccessful. They refused to commit to shifting support to a second referendum, reiterating Labour's conference policy that "all options" would remain on the table.
May is required to table a new motion within three days setting out how she plans to proceed. The motion can be amended by MPs seeking to put forward their own alternative Brexit plans.
The UK is now facing the possibility of having to extend Article 50 — the process that means it is due to leave the European Union on March 29 — as there is unlikely to be enough time for a Brexit agreement to pass through parliament by that date.
Remain-supporting rebels led by Tory backbencher Nick Boles are seeking to hand power over the Brexit process back to MPs with an unprecedented bill that would wrest control over the Commons order paper from the government.
European Council president Donald Tusk's spokesperson said: “We regret the outcome of the vote, and urge the UK Government to clarify its intentions with respect to its next steps as soon as possible."
He also confirmed BuzzFeed News' earlier story that the EU27 would not change its position and speed up preparations for no deal.
“We will continue our preparations for all outcomes, including a no-deal scenario. The risk of a disorderly exit has increased with this vote and, while we do not want this to happen, we will be prepared for it.
“We will continue the EU´s process of ratification of the agreement reached with the UK Government. This agreement is and remains the best and only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.”
Brussels also dismissed suggestions that a special summit or reopening the deal could unlock the stalemate in Westminster.
Lines sent to the 27 capitals stated that “there is nothing more that the EU can do. The problem is in London, not in Brussels or the capitals of the 27. Hence, a meeting of the 27 right now serves no purpose.”
And although the EU was always ready to meet and to talk, Brussels reaffirmed that the European Council (in Article 50 composition) said in December that the Withdrawal Agreement, which was agreed by the UK government with the EU’s negotiator and endorsed by the EU27 Leaders, is not open for renegotiation.
In terms of the possibility of extending Article 50, the EU said there had been no UK request. Should there be one, “setting out the reasons for such an extension, it will be a matter for the EU27 to decide by unanimity.”
These were the 118 Conservatives who voted against the government:
Sir David Amess
Sir Graham Brady
Sir William Cash
Sir Christopher Chope
Iain Duncan Smith
Sir David Evennett
Sir Michael Fallon
Sir John Hayes
Sir Bernard Jenkin
Sir Greg Knight
Anne Marie Morris
Sir Mike Penning
Sir John Redwood
Sir Hugo Swire
Sir Robert Syms