By GRAHAME ANDERSON
British history was made on Tuesday January 15 when a sitting government suffered the heaviest ever commons defeat.
As a consequence Theresa May’s Brexit deal was rejected by a crushing majority of 230, plunging the UK into its greatest political crisis since the Second World War. A staggering total of 118 Conservatives voted against their own party. Three Labour MPs supported the prime minister’s deal: Ian Austin (Dudley North), Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) and John Mann (Bassetlaw).
A Single Amendment
Prior to the main vote, there was only one amendment tabled by Tory MP John Baron, seeking to give the UK the right to terminate the Irish border backstop without the agreement of the EU. This too was heavily defeated.
Vote Of No Confidence
The result of 432 votes to 202 immediately prompted a vote of no confidence in the government, tabled by the leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn. This will be debated on Wednesday with a vote expected at around 7pm.
The PM’s Response
Standing at the despatch box to acknowledge what many pundits will call a deeply humiliating defeat, Mrs May said: “The House has spoken and the Government will listen.”
Under the terms of an amendment passed last week, Mrs May must table a motion on her Plan B within three sitting days, taking us up to Monday 21st January.
Jeremy Corbyn said the defeat was “catastrophic,” as he eyes up a possible general election. It would allow the House of Commons to “give its verdict on the sheer incompetence of this government.”
Labour MP Chuka Umunna said if his leader did not secure a general election, Mr Corbyn should do what the “overwhelming majority” of Labour members want and get behind a further EU referendum.
Calls were made from the SNP to extend Article 50, with the Liberal Democrats calling for a peoples vote. The DUP quickly made it clear they would support the government on Wednesday creating a real possibility Labour will lose their no confidence vote.
At the end of 54 hours of debate Mrs May had told the house: “Our deal delivers certainty for businesses with a time-limited implementation period to prepare for the new arrangements of the future relationship. No deal means no implementation period.
“Our deal protects the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU so they can carry on their lives as before. No deal means no reciprocal agreement to protects those citizens’ rights”.
What Happens Now?
After the result was known she made it clear more negotiating with EU leaders would be attempted to get amends acceptable to MPs, though the devastating rejection of the deal certainly leaves more questions than answers. The scale of the defeat must surely mean even with more tweaks this particular deal is dead, and a new one must be found quickly given we are due to leave the EU in little more than 77 days.
The UK suddenly finds itself in uncharted territory for the next week at least, with civil servants already gearing up for a no deal Brexit. What happens in the coming days will be crucial not only for the British economy, but for the public at large. Many who voted to leave in the 2016 referendum will feel badly let down by the democratic process – a second referendum while possible could well divide people even further, as might a general election.
Normally in such circumstances the prime minister would resign, but this is a determined politician governing in extraordinary times. Should Labour lose tomorrow’s vote, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership will also undoubtedly be called into question.
For now the UK is still no nearer clarity, and Theresa May continues to battle on in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds.