Theresa May suffered her heaviest parliamentary defeat any British prime minister in the democratic era has faced after MPs rejected her Brexit deal with a majority of 230 voting against. The prime minister immediately announced that she would welcome a vote of no confidence in her own government, and would make time for it on Wednesday.
The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, told MPs: “This is a catastrophic defeat. The house has delivered its verdict on her deal. Delay and denial has reached the end of the line.”
May had said that if she had survived the vote – which was appearing likely as the Democratic Unionist party said it would back her – she would hold cross-party meetings with the senior parliament “to identify what would be required to secure the backing of the house”.
As the debate continues May is still attempting to make a last ditch plea to colleagues to support her warning them not to break their promise to the British people to deliver Brexit.
“This is the most significant vote that any of us will ever be part of in our political careers. After all the debate, all the disagreement, all the division, the time has now come for all of us in this house to make a decision. A decision that will define our country for decades to come,” she said.
“Together we can show the people we serve that their voices have been heard, that their trust was not misplaced.
Many MPs have started to change their mind as another conservative backbencher stood up to slam her painstakingly negotiated withdrawal agreement in the House of Commons.
Speaking just before the vote, the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said “the prime minister has treated Brexit as a matter for the Conservative party, rather than the good of the whole country”.
He called the government’s efforts to steer Brexit through parliament “one of the most chaotic and extraordinary parliamentary processes” he had experienced in 35 years as an MP.
The attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, had earlier warned his colleagues that if they did not accept the deal, they risked condemning Britain to the chaos of a no-deal Brexit. “It would be the height of irresponsibility for any legislator to contemplate with equanimity such a situation,” he said.
He argued that members of the public affected by no deal would say to MPs: “What are you playing at? What are you doing? You are not children in the playground. You are legislators, and this is your job.”
Both Labour and the Scottish National party withdrew amendments to the government’s motion at the last minute, to allow MPs a clean vote on the deal.