‘Largest political defeat in Commons history’

Protesters outside Parliament on Tuesday just hours before the pivotal Brexit deal vote

Colin Gannon

British Prime Minister Theresa May will face a vote of no confidence in her leadership after her Brexit deal suffered the largest Commons defeat in British political history.

A besieged May, speaking after MPs including Tory rebels soundly rejected her deal by a majority of 230, offered cross-party talks to ease some of the mounting pressure on her to delay Brexit.

More than a third of Tory MPs voted against her deal, a larger majority than what was expected by most commentators.

Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition leader, said she had reached the “end of the line” as he tabled a vote of no confidence in her government to be taken place on Tuesday evening.

Some 202 MPs voted in favour of Mrs May’s deal and 432 voted against. The previous biggest meaningful defeat of a prime minister was in 1924, with a margin of 166, when the first Labour government was toppled following a media scandal.

The DUP and the hardline Brexiteer lobby group, the European Research Group, have both said they will support May in today’s confidence, meaning the prime minister is expected to survive for now.

The fate of her deal, however, is much less certain, with second referendum supporters, in particular, declaring the deal “dead”.

Theresa May and European Commission Chief Jean-Claude Juncker Photo: EU Council

The prime minister, in her speech after the historic vote, promised to work with parliamentarians from across the Commons to identify what was necessary to secure a majority.

She reminded MPs, however, that any proposal must be capable of being negotiated with the EU, which has previously ruled out any changes to the text of the withdrawal agreement.

She said that she would enter talks in a “constructive spirit” but “must focus on ideas that are genuinely negotiable and have sufficient support in this house”.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, warned that a no-deal Brexit was looming. “The risk of a disorderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom has increased with this evening’s vote. I urge the United Kingdom to clarify its intentions as soon as possible,” he said.

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, suggested at either a second referendum or a reversal of Brexit. “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?”

A spokesperson for the Irish government said of the crushing result: “It is not too late to avoid this outcome and we call on the UK to set out how it proposes to resolve this impasse as a matter of urgency.”

Arlene Foster (Photo: RollingNews.ie)

Arlene Foster, the Democratic Unionist Party leader, said: “By rejecting the withdrawal agreement, parliament has acted in the best interests of the entire United Kingdom.”

She added: “Reassurances whether in the form of letters or warm words will not be enough.”

May’s spokesperson said after the vote that she remained opposed to delaying Brexit but did refuse to rule out an extension. She must now tell MPs next Monday of how she intends to proceed.

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