Theresa May has suffered another significant defeat to her Brexit plan, after MPs voted on Friday to reject her withdrawal agreement by a majority of 58.
On the day the UK had originally been due to leave the EU, the Commons shot down the prime minister’s eleventh hour attempt to lock in a short extension of Article 50 until May 22, which she said would “guarantee Brexit”.
The defeat, by a vote of 344 to 286, means the UK is on course to leave with no-deal on April 12 – unless the government comes up with an alternative plan.
Speaking in the Commons, May said this alternative would likely now be a much longer delay to Brexit which could force the UK to hold European Parliament elections and even “destroy” the attempt to leave the EU.
“Today should have been the day the UK left the EU – that we are not leaving today is a matter of deep personal regret to me,” she said.
And in what has been interpreted as a hint a general election could be on its way, May said the current parliament was “reaching the limits” of what it could do.
Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said he would now call an emergency European Council summit on April 10.
In a last ditch attempt to persuade Tory rebels to vote with her, May had also promised to resign as prime minister if the Commons backed her.
The offer to let a new party leader and prime minister to take charge of the next phase of the talks with the EU – the future trade relationship – persuaded some to fall in line.
Leading Brexiteers including Boris Johnson and Dominc Raab decided to vote with the government.
But it was not enough in the face of continued opposition from the Northern Irish DUP, a hardcore of pro-Brexit Tories and the Labour Party.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Friday’s vote was an “affront to democracy”. He said: “The government has run down the clock in an attempt to blackmail MPs at every turn.”
Tory MP Steve Baker, deputy chairman of the pro-Brexit European Research Group, said it was time for the PM to quit.
“This must be the final defeat for Theresa May’s Deal,” he said. “It’s finished. And we must move on.”
In an attempt to win over critics, May asked parliament to only vote on half of the deal she struck with Brussels.
The Commons considered the withdrawal agreement, the legally binding “divorce deal” and covers the UK’s exit from the EU.
It contains proposals for the controversial Northern Irish backstop which is intended as an insurance policy to prevent the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland. And it deals with issues like the financial settlement and citizens’ rights after withdrawal.
MPs did vote on the political declaration element which is non-legally binding and looks at the future relationship Britain will have with the bloc.
The previous two ‘meaningful votes’ by MPs have been on the two documents combined as one package.
Downing Street hoped the tactic would enable MPs who were opposed to the political declaration but supported the withdrawal agreement to vote with the government today.