Theresa May has suffered a second humiliating defeat on her Brexit deal, as MPs rejected the last-minute reassurances she won from the EU27 on Monday and voted it down by a crushing majority of 149.
With just 17 days to go until the UK is due to leave the EU, MPs ignored the prime minister’s pleas to “get the deal done”, after the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) said it could not support the agreement.
The prime minister immediately gave a statement, saying she was “profoundly disappointed” that her deal had been rejected again.
May makes final appeal to MPs ahead of crucial Brexit deal vote
She said the government would table a motion, so that MPs can debate on Wednesday whether the UK should leave the EU without a deal on 29 March, and that she would offer her MPs a free vote on that decision.
There will then be another vote on Thursday, on whether to request an extension to article 50.
But May insisted: “Voting against leaving without a deal, and for an extension, does not solve the problems we face. The EU will want to know what use we want to make of that extension. The house will have to answer that question.”
With her voice cracked and fading, the prime minister had earlier pleaded with the House of Commons: “This is the moment and this is the time – time for us to come together, back this motion and get the deal done. Because only then can we can get on with what we need to do, what we were sent here to do.”
Some Conservatives who rejected the deal in January, when May lost by a record majority of 230, did switch sides; many feared Brexit would be delayed or reversed if they didn’t support the agreement.
But most Labour MPs trooped through the voting lobbies with the DUP, the pro-Brexit European Research Group (ERG), and remain-supporting Tories, to sink the deal.
Jeremy Corbyn said Labour would now press for a softer Brexit. “I believe there is a majority in this house for the sort of sensible, credible and negotiable deal that Labour has set out. I look forward to parliament taking back control so that we can succeed where this government has so blatantly failed,” he said.
The former foreign secretary Boris Johnson said the vote should mark “the end of the road” for May’s deal.
May’s defeat came despite her late-night dash to Strasbourg on Monday, during which Jean-Claude Juncker signed off on three additions to the agreement struck in November.
These included a joint interpretative instrument fleshing out both sides’ obligations to negotiate in good faith, a joint statement that they would work on alternative arrangements, and a unilateral statement by the UK that there would be nothing to stop Britain seeking to “disapply” the backstop if negotiations broke down.
Earlier, the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, had called on his colleagues to treat the vote as a “political judgment”, after his much-anticipated legal advice offered little comfort to those concerned about the backstop.
In his statement, he suggested the changes reduced the risk of the UK being trapped indefinitely in the Northern Ireland backstop – but did not eliminate it.
Cox’s verdict was echoed in a statement published by a self-styled “star chamber” of leave-supporting lawyers, assembled by the ERG and including the DUP’s Nigel Dodds and the former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab.
They said the changes offered only “faint and remote prospects of escaping” from the backstop, and “do not materially change the position the UK would find itself in if it were to ratify the withdrawal agreement”.
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