The British House of Commons has voted to reject the Brexit deal British Prime Minister Theresa May negotiated with the European Union last year.
The only suspense before the vote was what the scale of May’s defeat would be. She was visibly disappointed that 118 of her own Conservative MPs voted against her.
The speaker announced that only 202 MPs were in favour, with 432 against. A margin of 230 represents the greatest defeat for a British government since the 1920s.
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn immediately announced he would be tabling a motion of no confidence in the government, which will be debated tomorrow. May was, however, confident that she and her government will not allow themselves to be voted out.
May on Tuesday evening in the final debate on the vote urged MPs to vote in favour of her Brexit deal with the EU, telling them they had a duty to deliver on the 2016 referendum result.
“I believe we have a duty to deliver on the democratic decision of the British people,” she said, warning MPs that the EU would not offer any “alternative deal”.
“The responsibility of each and every one of us at this moment is profound, for this is a historic decision that will set the future of our country for generations,” she said.
She warned that a second referendum on Brexit would lead to “further division” and ruled out another election, saying it would only extend uncertainty.
“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,” she said.
May also said that a contested legal guarantee in the deal to keep the Irish border open, the so-called “backstop”, would have to remain in the agreement.
“We need an insurance policy to guarantee there will be no hard border,” she said.
In 2016, Britain voted by 52 percent in favour of leaving the EU after four decades of membership.
May knew she faced a crushing defeat in the historic vote over the Brexit deal she has struck with the European Union, leaving the world’s fifth biggest economy in limbo.
With just over two months to go until the scheduled Brexit date of March 29, Britain is still bitterly divided over how and even whether it should split away from the bloc’s other 27 nations.
The British leader’s last-minute appeals to MPs fell on deaf ears and how much she would loae by was thought to determine whether she would try again, get kicked out of office, or delay Brexit — if Brexit now even happens at all.
“You are not children in the playground, you are legislators,” Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, representing the government, told MPs just before the vote.
Cox warned that the current deal would have to return “in much the same form with much the same content” for another vote if this one failed.
Hundreds of noisy and excited supporters and opponents of Brexit, some banging drums and others holding up huge dolls mocking top UK politicians, rallied outside parliament while the closing debates raged on inside.
“It could end up being the day that will lead to us leaving with no deal!” said 25-year-old Simon Fisher, who was rallying in front of the building to back a harder Brexit.
Others voiced their support for a second referendum.
‘No Deal? No problem!’
Opposition to the agreement forced May to postpone the vote in December in the hope of winning concessions from Brussels.
EU leaders have offered only a series of clarifications, but German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Strasbourg on Tuesday raised the possibility of further talks while ruling out a full renegotiation of the text.
“I am sceptical that the agreement can be fundamentally reopened once again,” Maas said.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker returned to Brussels from Strasbourg on Tuesday “to handle the situation after the vote,” according to his office.
Hardline Brexiteers and Remainers opposed the agreement for different reasons and many feared it could lock Britain into an unfavourable trading relationship with the EU.
Debates about Britain’s place in the world have raged since a 2016 referendum pushed the UK away from its closest trading partner — dividing families and confounding politicians ahead of the momentous vote.
“The only good deal is a dead Brexit,” said one placard brandished outside parliament.
“No Deal? No Problem!” another countered.
Financial markets were also watching the result closely, with several currency trading companies roping in extra staff for the vote and at least one putting a cap on trades to avoid excessive currency movements.
The pound was trading lower against the euro and the dollar ahead of the vote but analysts predicted the fall could be far sharper depending on the scale of defeat.
“Today’s vote is a foregone conclusion so sterling is unlikely to move significantly,” said Rebecca O’Keeffe, an analyst with online trader Interactive Investor.
“The fireworks will happen after today — when it is clear what happens next,” she said.
Criticism of the deal is focused on an arrangement to keep open the border with Ireland by aligning Britain with some EU trade rules, if and until London and Brussels sign a new economic partnership which could take several years.
Sammy Wilson, Brexit spokesman with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, upon which May relies for her Commons majority, told the BBC his party would not be forced into backing the deal by fears over the border.
“We fought (against) a terrorist campaign (in order) to stay part of the United Kingdom,” he said, evoking Northern Ireland’s past conflict.
“We are not going to allow bureaucrats in Brussels to separate us from the rest of the United Kingdom.”
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said May must call an election if she loses on Tuesday and has threatened to hold a confidence vote in her government if she does not.
Risk of no deal
The government must now set out what happens next by Monday.
House speaker John Bercow selected four amendments to be voted on, but scuppered the government’s attempts to win over those worried about the backstop by rejecting a proposal that would have sought to impose a time limit.
Speculation is growing on both sides of the Channel that May could ask to delay Brexit.
But a diplomatic source told AFP any extension would not be possible beyond June 30, when the new European Parliament will be formed.
The withdrawal agreement includes plans for a post-Brexit transition period until a new relationship is drawn up, in return for continued budget contributions from London.
Without it, and if there is no delay, Britain will sever 46 years of ties with its nearest neighbours with no agreement to ease the blow.