Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal agreement was overwhelmingly defeated by 432 votes to 202 on Tuesday night, a majority of 230 in the House of Commons. It marks the largest defeat of a government since 1924, and leaves the prime minister’s Europe strategy in tatters.
Mrs May addressed the commons after the vote, saying that “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.”
She said that “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.”
The opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn immediately tabled a motion of no confidence in the government, which will be debated and voted on by members of parliament on Wednesday. He described the defeat as “catastrophic” and reiterated his Labour party’s support for the UK to remain in a customs union.
The Democratic Unionist Party has confirmed that it will support the government in the vote, which means it seems unlikely that the measure will pass. However it leaves the country stuck with a government that cannot get its flagship legislation through.
Mrs May has indicated she will attempt to bring back the agreement rather than make wholesale changes to it, not least because the European Union has said it will not countenance anything other than what was negotiated.
Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, said Mrs May was unlikely to get changes to her deal from that could "placate her Brexiteers".
“Or, she reaches out to Labour and goes for a softer Brexit than most Brexiteers would contemplate” – but which the EU might accept, he said.
The Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Tuesday night that Mrs May should suspend the Brexit process and hold another referendum.
"We can't waste time any longer. Now is the time to stop the Article 50 clock... legislation should be brought forward to take this issue back to the electorate," Ms Sturgeon told the BBC.
EU president Jean-Claude Juncker released a statement within minutes of the vote, saying “I take note with regret of the outcome of the vote in the House of Commons this evening.
“The risk of a disorderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom has increased with this evening's vote. While we do not want this to happen, the European Commission will continue its contingency work to help ensure the EU is fully prepared.
“I urge the United Kingdom to clarify its intentions as soon as possible. Time is almost up,” he added.
Guy Verhofstadt, the chief Brexit representative for the European Parliament, tweeted that “the UK Parliament has said what it doesn't want. Now is the time to find out what UK parliamentarians want. In the meantime, the rights of citizens must be safeguarded.”
Earlier Mrs May had told the House of Commons that the vote was a "historic decision which will set the future of our country for generations".
She said the decision is one "that each of us will have to justify and live with for many years to come".
Wrapping up a multi-day debate, prime minister urged legislators to “choose certainty over uncertainty” by backing the agreement and securing an orderly UK departure from the EU on March 29.