Theresa May loses Brexit deal by an overwhelming majority in Commons

Theresa May Brexit deal

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Theresa May’s Brexit deal has been defeated in parliament by an overwhelming majority, with only 202 MPs voting for her deal, versus 432 against. – jump to full story.


21:18 – Theresa May’s statement to the Commons in full

Here is the text of Theresa May’s statement to the Commons after losing the vote:

“Mr Speaker, 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 nothing about what it does support. Nothing about how – or even if – it intends to honour the decision the British people took in a referendum parliament decided to hold.

People, particularly EU citizens who have made their home here and UK citizens living in the EU, deserve clarity on these questions as soon as possible. Those whose jobs rely on our trade with the EU need that clarity. So with your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to set out briefly how the government intends to proceed.

First, we need to confirm whether this government still enjoys the confidence of the house. I believe that it does, but given the scale and importance of tonight’s vote it is right that others have the chance to test that question if they wish to do so. I can therefore confirm that if the official opposition table a confidence motion this evening in the form required by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, the government will make time to debate that motion tomorrow. And if, as happened before Christmas, the official opposition decline to do so, we will – on this occasion – consider making time tomorrow to debate any motion in the form required from the other opposition parties, should they put one forward.

Second, if the house confirms its confidence in this government I will then hold meetings with my colleagues, our confidence and supply partner the DUP and senior parliamentarians from across the house to identify what would be required to secure the backing of the house. The government will approach these meetings in a constructive spirit, but given the urgent need to make progress, we must focus on ideas that are genuinely negotiable and have sufficient support in this house.

Third, if these meetings yield such ideas, the government will then explore them with the European Union. Mr Speaker, I want to end by offering two reassurances.

The first is to those who fear that the government’s strategy is to run down the clock to 29 March. That is not our strategy. I have always believed that the best way forward is to leave in an orderly way with a good deal and have devoted much of the last two years negotiating such a deal.

As you confirmed, Mr Speaker, the amendment to the business motion tabled last week by [Dominic Grieve] is not legally binding, but the government respects the will of the house. We will therefore make a statement about the way forward and table an amendable motion by Monday. The second reassurance is to the British people, who voted to leave the European Union in the referendum two and a half years ago. I became prime minister immediately after that referendum. I believe it is my duty to deliver on their instruction and I intend to do so.

Mr Speaker, every day that passes without this issue being resolved means more uncertainty, more bitterness and more rancour. The government has heard what the house has said tonight, but I ask members on all sides of the house to listen to the British people, who want this issue settled, and to work with the government to do just that.”


20:51 – SNP supports Corbyn’s no-confidence motion

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has said that her party supports Jeremy Corbyn’s confidence motion. Speaking on Tuesday evening, Sturgeon said: “It has been crystal clear for months that the Prime Minister’s approach was heading for a crushing defeat. Instead of facing up to that fact, she wasted valuable time with her postponement of the meaningful vote in December. There is no more time to waste.”


20:02 – Jean-Claude Juncker urges the UK to ‘clarify its intentions’

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker has tweeted that he ‘regrets’ the outcome of the vote this evening, before urging the UK to ‘clarify it intentions’.


20:02 – Andrea Leadsom says parliament will vote on no-confidence motion at 7pm on Wednesday

Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, has told MPs that the Commons will vote on the no-confidence motion at 7pm tomorrow.


19:55 – DUP says they will support government in no-confidence motion

The DUP have confirmed that they will support the Conservative government in a no-confidence vote. This is unsurprising, as the DUP are part of a confidence and supply deal.

Update: Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, has issued the following statement:

“By rejecting the withdrawal agreement, parliament has acted in the best interests of the entire United Kingdom. The House of Commons has sent an unmistakable message to the prime minister and the European Union that this deal is rejected.

Mrs May will now be able to demonstrate to the Brussels’ negotiators that changes are required if any deal is to command the support of parliament … Reassurances whether in the form of letters or warm words, will not be enough. The prime minister must now go back to the European Union and seek fundamental change to the withdrawal agreement.”


19:48 – Jeremy Corbyn tables vote of no-confidence

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has tabled a motion of no-confidence against the government, which will be debated in parliament, and, if it gathers enough support from the Commons, lead to a general election.

This is still a difficult thing for the Labour party to force – a majority vote against the government would likely require Tory MPs to rebel.


Top story: Theresa May loses Brexit deal by an overwhelming majority in Commons

The deal, originally agreed between Britain and the EU in November, has faced strong opposition on both sides on the Commons since its early stages. In particular, the Irish backstop issue has dominated the conversation, and is the key reason many MPs voted against the deal.

May had urged MPs to give her deal “a second look” when she gave a statement on Monday which included the weak assurances she had been given by EU officials on the Irish backstop, the most controversial point of her Brexit deal.

The prime minister sought assurances from Brussels right up to the last day that the backstop would not come into play, and that if it did it would be temporary. However, as the prime minister herself admitted in the Commons on Monday, EU officials would give no such assurances.

What happens now?

Theresa May now has three days to return to parliament with an alternative to her failed Brexit plan. This is because of an amendment tabled by Dominic Grieve earlier this month, which was voted for by parliament, forcing the PM to come up with a ‘plan B’.

Extending Article 50

It is likely that May will now announce that the government will request an extension of article 50 from the EU. EU officials have already signalled that they are prepared for this eventuality, and do not appear to take issue with it.

However, for many hard Brexiteers, this extension will be an opportunity to point out the incompetence of the government, and push for a no-deal Brexit. Hardline Conservatives such as Jacob Rees-Mogg may be pushing for this publicly.

General election on the cards?

Labour’s official position is that the party will try and force a general election, now that May’s deal has been defeated. Jeremy Corbyn reaffirmed this in a BBC interview on Sunday when he said that Labour would launch a no-confidence vote “soon”. However, for the vote to be won by the opposition, they would need the help of rebel Tories.

Will may resign?

Less likely, but still possible, is that Theresa May resigns as PM, in the wake of a humiliating defeat, admitting that her authority has diminished to an all-time low. This would lead to perhaps one of the most interesting leadership elections in modern political history.

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Daniel Cody

Daniel Cody is SEO Editor at the New Statesman, and the creator of No Majesty. He is the host of the podcast Britain on the Rocks.