May soldiers on as MPs plunge UK into chaos
Just 16 days before Brexit, the PM’s strategy lies in tatters after a second crushing loss, her authority in shreds. She insists she will not resign and nobody knows what will happen next.
“I profoundly regret the decision that this House has taken tonight,” said Prime Minister Theresa May, her voice croaky and failing.
May was speaking after MPs rejected her Brexit deal by 242 votes to 391 — a majority of 149.
It was an improvement on last time when she lost by 230 votes. Nevertheless, last night will still go down as one of the worst defeats in parliamentary history.
“Has there been a time in British history when a prime minister has lost on such a crucial vote, by so much, twice, and not resigned?” wondered journalist Andrew Neil.
Now, there is wide agreement on only two things: these are indeed unprecedented times, and May is determined to see Brexit out to the bitter end.
After rushing to Strasbourg on Monday for last-ditch talks, the prime minister had hoped that “legally binding” alterations to her deal would be enough to persuade MPs to back it.
But her fate was sealed when Attorney General Geoffrey Cox conceded that the tweaks would not necessarily stop the UK from being trapped in an unpopular backstop arrangement “indefinitely”.
In the end, Tory Brexiteers from the European Research Group lined up with Labour, the DUP and more to rebel against the government.
“The clock has run out on her,” declared Jeremy Corbyn after the results were announced.
The prime minister disagrees. Tomorrow, as promised, she will give Parliament the chance to vote against a no-deal Brexit. If they do so, a day later MPs will vote on whether to ask the EU to delay Brexit.
The mood in Europe is sheer exasperation. “We have done all that is possible,” said EU Council President Donald Tusk. The EU is open to extending Article 50, he said, but the UK will have to offer “a credible justification” of what it plans to do.
Amid all the confusion, some are wondering if Brexit will ever happen at all.
“You had it within your grasp,” Andrew Neil told arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg after the vote. “This was the night you lost Brexit.”
Rees-Mogg stood firm, insisting that “very few people want to reverse Brexit.” But is it time to consider it?
No way out
Should we cancel Brexit? Two years and nine months have passed since the referendum, but has anything been achieved? The only credible deal has been resoundingly and repeatedly rejected. There is no clear way forward from here. Is Brexit simply impossible?
But what about the 17 million people who voted for Brexit? Would cancelling it be a betrayal of their democratic vote? Amid the deadlock, would it be better to hold a second referendum, or a general election, to give the people a say? Or should we bite the bullet and leave with no deal? Growing numbers think so.
- Should Brexit be cancelled?
- Would you have voted for May’s deal?
- If there was a second referendum, what should the options on the ballot be? Write your own mock ballot paper.
- Write a news report on last night’s vote, including the numbers and quotes from important figures.
Some People Say...
“Of course Brexit means that something is wrong in Europe. But Brexit means also that something was wrong in Britain.”Jean-Claude Juncker
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Theresa May’s Brexit deal has been rejected by MPs by a large majority of 149 votes. Some 235 Tories voted in favour of the deal along with three Labour MPs and four independents. However, the deal was dismissed by 238 Labour MPs, 75 Conservative MPs, all 11 Liberal Democrats, along with all members of the DUP, the SNP and the Independent Group. This is a big but smaller defeat than last time, when the deal was rejected by 230 votes.
- What do we not know?
- Once again, we are no closer to knowing if and in what manner the UK will leave the EU. If, as looks likely, the UK asks the EU for an extension, it is not clear how long that might be. The upcoming European Parliament elections complicate matters, as the EU says the UK must leave by May 24 or field candidates for that election.
- One of the worst
- Last night’s loss was the fourth worst government defeat in history. The worst ever was May’s defeat by 230 votes in January. The second and third worst were both suffered by Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald’s government on October 8, 1924.
- Attorney General
- The government’s top lawyer.
- Under May’s deal, if the UK and the EU have failed to reach an agreement on a trading relationship by the end of the transition period, the “backstop” would keep the UK locked in with some EU regulations in order to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland until a different arrangement can be reached.
- European Research Group
- (ERG) a group of pro-Brexit Tory MPs who have been influential in exerting pressure on the government.
- MPs will be given a free vote, which means they can make their own minds up rather than being told to vote in line with their party.
- Jacob Rees-Mogg
- Chair of the euro-sceptic European Research Group.
- According to a ComRes survey, 44% want the UK to leave with no deal if the EU makes no more concessions.