British MPs have rejected Theresa May’s Brexit plan by a huge margin of 230 votes, meaning there is no agreed plan for the country to leave the EU in just 10 weeks time.
The result was greeted by loud cheering in the British House of Commons and has set the scene for even more political upheaval in the days ahead – including a confidence motion tomorrow that could bring down her minority government.
It was the biggest defeat for a government in the Commons in more than a century. As soon as the result was known the pound dropped before it rebounded sharply.
Mrs May will fight for her political life in parliament tomorrow, as EU leaders wasted no time in warning “time is running out” and taunting MPs about who would have the “courage” to find a solution.
Speaking moments after the vote result was announced, Mrs May said it was clear Parliament did not support her bill – but it equally didn’t show how Brexit should be managed.
“It is clear that the House does not support this deal, but tonight’s vote tells us nothing about what it does support.”
The rejection was at the upper end of expectations, and Mrs May said she would talk to colleagues and the opposition about the best way forward, including alternative approaches to Brexit.
The Prime Minister said MPs would be able to debate a no confidence motion tomorrow – essentially calling a confidence vote in herself to test whether her government still had support of parliament.
It also dared MPs to vote for a general election and was seen by political commentators as a way of trying to gain the upper hand from Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn.
“We need to confirm whether this Government still enjoys the confidence of the House,’’ she said.
“I can confirm that if the official opposition table it (a motion of no-confidence) this evening… the Government will make time to debate it tomorrow.’’
Mr Corbyn, leader of the main Labour opposition party, then submitted the motion saying the government had suffered a “catastrophic” defeat.
He said it was the greatest defeat for a government since the 1920s.
If a snap election was held it would take place just weeks before Brexit was due to occur although the government is expected to win.
432 MPs voted against the deal, with only 202 backing the deal – but in a sign she has no plans to resign, Mrs May said she had every intention of honouring the will of the people and deliver Brexit.
That indicated she also planned to bring another deal back to parliament, assuming she wins the confidence vote tomorrow.
She said if her government survived the confidence vote she would attempt to break the impasse by meeting with Mps and party leaders from across the House to try and strike a deal.
She would then take it back to Brussels and EU leaders for a final renegotiation.
European Union leaders urged Britain to decide quickly how it will avoid a “no deal Brexit”.
“I urge the United Kingdom to clarify its intentions as soon as possible. Time is almost up,” warned Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, adding that Brussels would step up contingency planning.
EU Council president Donald Tusk, who represents the leaders of member states, seized upon the failure of Mrs May to sell her Brexit plan.
“If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?” Tusk tweeted.
— Jean-Claude Juncker (@JunckerEU)
Juncker, however, stressed the European parliament and institutions will press on with plans to ratify the agreement they signed with May in November last year, hoping to avoid a catastrophic break-up.
“On the EU side, the process of ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement continues,” he said.
“The Withdrawal Agreement is a fair compromise and the best possible deal. It reduces the damage caused by Brexit for citizens and businesses across Europe. It is the only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union,” Juncker added.
“The risk of a disorderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom has increased with this evening’s vote. While we do not want this to happen, the European Commission will continue its contingency work to help ensure the EU is fully prepared.
Before the catastrophic defeat, Mrs May used her final pitch to MPs to urge them to do their duty and follow the instructions voters gave them during the divisive 2016 referendum.
She told the Commons MPs had a duty to deliver the will of the voting public and rejected the idea of a second referendum, a snap election and a no deal.
“I believe we have a duty to deliver on the democratic decision of the British people,” she said, warning MPs that the EU would not offer any “alternative deal”.
She said her deal was the basis for a long-term economic partnership with the EU. It would be more ambitious than any other the EU has – and although the UK would cope a no-deal Brexit, it would not be the best outcome.
She urged them to do what was right.
“The responsibility of each and every one of us at this moment is profound, for this is a historic decision that will set the future of our country for generations,” she said to loud cheers and jeers.
She added: “This is the most significant vote any of us will take part of in any of our political careers after all the debate, disagreements,division…the time has come for all of us in the House to make a decision that would define our country for decades to come.”
On the “backstop” she said no other alternative stopped a hard border being set up on the island of Ireland.
“We need an insurance policy to guarantee there will be no hard border,”
She rejected extending Article 50, the trigger for the UK’s departure from the EU on March 29.
“The Government will work harder at taking Parliament with us. As we move to the next stage of negotiations we will be working harder with Parliament.
“A vote against this deal is a vote for nothing more than uncertainty, division and the very real risk of No Deal or no Brexit at all,” she said.
“It doesn’t have to be that way – tonight we can choose certainty over uncertainty, we can choose unity over division, we can choose to deliver on our promise to the British people and endanger trust in politics for a generation.”
MPs voted – and rejected overwhelmingly – an amendment to the plan about setting a time limit on the back stop. Three of the four planned amendments were pulled however, meaning the final main vote happened quicker than anticipated.
Earlier, Attorney-General Geoffrey Cox told parliament it would be “height of irresponsibility” to reject the agreement and plunge the country into uncertainty.
“You are not children in the playground – you are legislators,” he said. “We are playing with people’s lives.”
A “no” vote would plunge British politics into further chaos only 10 weeks before the country is due to leave the EU on March 29. It is not clear if it would push the government toward an abrupt “no-deal” break with the EU, nudge it toward a softer departure, trigger a new election or pave the way for a second referendum that could reverse Britain’s decision to leave.
May, who leads a fragile Conservative minority government, has made delivering Brexit her main task since taking office in 2016 in the wake of the country’s decision to leave the EU.
As the debate entered its final hour outside the parliament at Westminster there is was a major, and noisy, protest outside involving both pro and anti Brexit groups chanting and waving banners.
Mrs May could play a high risk game and force a second vote on her Brexit plan if it is defeated as expected in a crucial vote tonight (local time).
The vote has been called the most crucial in the UK’s parliament since World War II and is one Mrs May will almost certainly lose, possibly with more than 100 of her own Conservative Party colleagues defying her and rejecting the deal she and European Union leaders thrashed out that set the terms of the UK’s departure from the economic and trading bloc it has been part of more than 40 years.
British newspapers were today divided about what would happen if and when the deal is rejected by the House of Commons. The right-leaning Daily Telegraph quoted sources within Cabinet saying she would have to resign if she lost by a heavy margin. The paper said she was expected to make a statement on her future soon after the vote.
Meanwhile, the top-selling The Sun, said Mrs May could try and force through a second vote after a defeat once she went back and gained new concessions from the EU. Both Mrs May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel believe the EU could agree to last minute concessions once the deal had been rejected – and as a no deal scenario that would be damaging to both sides became a real reality.
.@Geoffrey_Cox called on MPs today to back the Brexit deal:
‘What are you playing at? What are you doing? You are not children in the playground, you are legislators’
Because the PM’s deal is ‘the necessary means to secure our orderly departure and unlock our future’ pic.twitter.com/xiCfJ6Y1xI— CCHQ Press Office (@CCHQPress)
A senior Government figure said the PM and Mrs Merkel agreed there needs to be “a bloodletting moment” first, The Sun said.
Ms May and senior ministers in her minority government know the divorce deal she has negotiated with the European Union won’t be approved by the House of Commons. With time running out for any credible alternative, and parliament so badly divided that no option can seemingly muster a majority, Britain faces uncertain times. Will the country leave the EU on March 29? On what terms? And what will the consequences be? Will the PM or her government survive?
This the strange way MPs actually vote – physically, not politically! pic.twitter.com/SOdaFDEblM— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak)
MPs will vote on whether they accept the deal of the so-called divorce which marks their departure from the EU. It makes provision for the rights of each other’s citizens, and most importantly allows for a transition period until December 2020 where things essentially stay the same.
That is to ensure there is a period of stability immediately after Brexit day which would allow the UK and EU to thrash out a trade deal and decide the details of their future relationship, which also includes movement between the two and security issues.
It includes the so-called backstop that will come into play if a new partnership is not signed and delivered by December 2020. It is controversial because it locks the UK, which includes Northern Ireland, into a customs union with the EU. That would allow frictionless trade between the UK and EU, and avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, but it would prevent the UK striking new trade deals of its own.
An under-pressure Ms May warned the only alternatives to her agreement were a damaging, chaotic “no-deal” exit from the EU or a halt to Britain’s departure that would overturn what British voters decided in 2016.
Jan. 23, 2013: British Prime Minister David Cameron promises a referendum on Britain’s membership in the EU if the Conservative party is elected in the next general election. He does so to try to garner support among euro-sceptics within his own party.
May. 7, 2015: British voters elect a majority Conservative government. Cameron confirms in his victory speech that there will be an “in/out” referendum on European Union membership.
Feb. 20, 2016: Cameron announces that he has negotiated a deal with EU leaders which will give Britain “special status.” He confirms that he will campaign for Britain to remain in the 28-nation bloc. The referendum date is set for June.
Feb. 21: Cameron is struck with a severe blow when one of his closest Conservative allies, the media-savvy Boris Johnson, joins the Leave campaign.
June 16: One week before the referendum, Labour Party politician and “remain” campaigner Jo Cox is killed by extremist Thomas Mair who shouted “Britain First” before shooting and stabbing her.
June 23: Britain votes 52 per cent to 48 per cent to leave the European Union.
June 24: Cameron says he will resign in light of the results because Britain needs “fresh leadership” to take the country in a new direction.
July 13: Following a Conservative Party leadership contest, Home Secretary Theresa May becomes prime minister.
Oct. 2: May says that Britain will begin the formal process of leaving the EU by the end of March 2017. In order to do this the British government would have to invoke Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty.
March 29, 2017: The British government formally triggers Article 50, setting in motion a plan for Britain to leave the EU on March 29, 2019.
June 8: A general election called by May to bolster her party’s numbers in parliament to help with the Brexit negotiations backfires as her Conservative Party loses its majority and continues in a weakened state as a minority government.
July 7, 2018: May and her Cabinet endorse the so-called “Chequers Plan” worked out at a fractious session at the prime minister’s country retreat. It leads to the resignations of Brexit Secretary David Davis, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and others who favour a more complete break with EU.
November 25: EU leaders approve a withdrawal deal reached with Britain after months of difficult negotiations. May urges British parliament to do the same.
December 10: May delays the planned Brexit vote in parliament one day before it is to be held because it faces certain defeat. She seeks further concessions from the EU.
December 12: Conservative politicians who back a clean break from the EU trigger a no-confidence vote in May over her handling of Brexit. She wins by 200 votes to 117, making her safe from another such challenge for a year.
January 15, 2019: The delayed vote is scheduled to be held in parliament with signs pointing to a likely government defeat.