Theresa May's Brexit deal suffers worst defeat in British political history

Theresa May gave herself 24 hours to save her premiership after her Brexit deal fell to the worst defeat by suffered by any government in British political history.

Tuesday, 15th January 2019, 9:38 pm
Updated Thursday, 17th January 2019, 5:32 am

MPs will vote on a motion of no confidence on Wednesday evening which could trigger a snap general election in the middle of a deep political crisis, with a no-deal Brexit looming in less than three months if politicians fail to agree an alternative.

Downing Street insisted its deal was not dead, but effectively admitted it had lost control of the Brexit process by saying it would open talks with MPs from all parties about what sort of agreement could get through the House of Commons.

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Prime Minister Theresa May listens to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking after losing a vote on her Brexit deal. Picture: House of Commons/PA Wire

Mrs May must first survive a motion of confidence lodged by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said the “catastrophic” defeat represented an “absolutely decisive” verdict on her Brexit negotiations.

“Delay and denial has reached the end of the line,” Mr Corbyn said.

The Prime Minister’s deal was rejected by 432 votes to 202, with 118 Conservative MPs rebels including the Scottish Tories John Lamont, Douglas Ross and Ross Thomson. The Conservative Party vice-chair Tom Pursglove resigned in order to vote against the Brexit deal.

Mrs May made clear she intends to stay on, setting out plans for talks with senior parliamentarians from parties across the Commons in the hope of finding “genuinely negotiable” solutions which she can take to Brussels.

A No 10 spokesman said they hoped to open talks with other MPs as “swiftly as possible” once the vote of confidence was out of the way, with an amendable motion to be put before the Commons on Monday.

“We want to identify what would be required to secure the backing of the House consistent with what we believe to be the result of the referendum,” the spokesman said. “We want to leave with a deal and we want to work with others who share that.”

However, Downing Street said it would retain its core Brexit “principles” of control over the UK’s borders, laws and money, and having an independent trade policy.

Number 10 also rejected demands from the SNP for Brexit to be delayed by extending or revoking Article 50. The spokesman declined to be drawn on whether they would include Jeremy Corbyn or Nicola Sturgeon.

With leading Brexiteers and the DUP saying last night that they will back the government in a confidence vote, Labour face a struggle to convince Conservative MPs to support them in toppling Mrs May from power.

If a no confidence motion passes with a simple majority in the Commons, a general election would be called after 14 days if the government fails to win back the support of a majority of MPs.

Mr Corbyn’s party is already putting itself on an election footing, with a party political broadcast on the theme of uniting the country set to be released on Wednesday.

And on Thursday, the Labour leader is expected to visit the Hastings and Rye constituency, where the Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd has a majority of just 346 votes.

Jeremy Corbyn’s spokesman suggested Labour could table another motion of no confidence in the Government if they lose Wednesday’s vote.

The spokesman added that the Government was “quite clearly unable to govern”, and said the “unprecedented” scale of the defeat made clear that “no amount of tweaking or talks on the detail are going to change that”.

It is unclear whether Brussels would accept any changes to the Brexit deal suggested by MPs. The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said last night: “Now it is time for the UK to tell us the next steps. On our side we will remain united and determined to reach an agreement.”

EU Council President Donald Tusk appeared to suggest the UK abandons Brexit, tweeting after last night’s result: “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?”