Theresa May’s government was hanging by a thread on Tuesday night after MPs rejected her Brexit plan by a massive majority.
In a shattering personal defeat for the prime minister, the House of Commons voted by 432 to 202 to throw out her proposals for the UK to quit the EU. It represents a majority of 230.
Tory Brexiteers and May’s DUP allies sent shockwaves across Europe as they joined forces with Labour and other parties to reject May’s plans.
In a surprise move, May immediately called a confidence vote in her own government. Jeremy Corbyn had already tabled the motion and the big vote will take place on Wednesday.
Seconds after the defeat, May said: “The house has spoken and the government will listen.
“It is clear that the house does not support this deal but tonight’s vote tells us what it does support – nothing about how or even if it intends to honour the decision in a referendum parliament decided to hold.”
The PM said EU citizens in the UK and British expats living on the continent “deserve clarity on these questions as soon as possible”.
No.10 revealed that May would consult with “senior parliamentarians” in all parties – apart from Jeremy Corbyn – in a bid to get a new consensus.
Downing Street insisted that it still wanted a Brexit that took back control of “our money, borders and laws” and that allowed an “independent trade policy”.
A No.10 spokesman stressed that the PM did not want to delay Brexit by extending Article 50.
Put to him that “the deal is dead”, the spokesman said: “We are obviously disappointed”.
On a night of high drama in the Commons, May saw the biggest ever Conservative rebellion in history in what many see as the most important parliamentary vote in Britain for a generation.
With just 73 days left until the UK is legally due to quit the European Union on March 29, the PM will now have to go back to the drawing board to make her deal more acceptable to MPs.
Many Tories abstained from the vote, giving No.10 a crumb of comfort that because they didn’t vote against they could be won back by a second vote on a better deal.
Optimism rose among anti-Brexit campaigners that they could overturn the ‘Leave’ vote from the 2016 referendum, with many pinning their hopes on a new so-called people’s vote to end the parliamentary deadlock.
May will now have to make a formal statement on her next steps, but her first priority will be to defeat a no-confidence motion to rule out a possible snap general election.
In her closing remarks in the debate, the PM made a last-ditch, desperate plea to her MPs to back her deal or risk the prospect of losing Brexit altogether.
She said that another general election would do nothing to change the Parliamentary arithmetic.
“All it would gain is two more months of uncertainty and division,” she told MPs, amid jeering Labour MPs calling for her to resign.
In a surprise move, she also hinted at a cross-party solution to the impasse.
“The government will work hard at taking Parliament with us. We will be looking with to work with Parliament,” she said.
But she had already failed to win the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), whose 10 MPs prop up her minority government in power.
DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds said that May had failed to deliver the “legally-binding assurances” she had promised to ensure Northern Ireland would never be treated differently from the rest of the UK, post-Brexit.
Several MPs voiced support for a second referendum, but a Norway-style ‘soft Brexit’ also won key backing during the debate.