Theresa May suffers new Commons Brexit humiliation
MPs voted down the Government motion by 303 to 258.
Theresa May has suffered another humiliating Commons defeat after MPs again voted down her latest Brexit plans.
On another dramatic day at Westminster, MPs voted by 303 to 258 – a majority of 45 – against the motion endorsing the Government’s negotiating strategy.
Ministers sought to dismiss the defeat as no more than a “hiccup”, as No 10 insisted the Prime Minister would continue in talks with Brussels unchanged.
However, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said it was clear her approach had failed and called on her to come forward with a “coherent plan” that could command broad support.
The defeat came after the pro-Brexit Tory European Research Group (ERG) announced it had taken a “collective decision” to abstain.
But the voting figures showed that a number of Tory Remainers also declined to vote, as more than a fifth of the party in the Commons failed to back the Government.
Five Tory MPs – Brexiteers Peter Bone, Sir Christopher Chope, Philip Hollobone, and Anne Marie Morris, and the pro-Remain Sarah Wollaston – even voted with the opposition against the motion.
Furious ERG members said supporting the motion would have amounted to an endorsement of efforts to rule out a no-deal Brexit.
The wording of the motion called on MPs to reiterate their support for the approach set out in an earlier set of votes on January 29.
On that occasion, the Commons voted for a Government-backed amendment calling on ministers to reopen negotiations with Brussels on the Northern Ireland backstop.
However it also voted for a non-binding cross-party amendment rejecting a no-deal break with the EU.
The defeat shattered the fragile show of Conservative unity after last month’s Commons votes.
It came after ministers warned that failure to support the motion could undermine the Prime Minister’s efforts to secure concessions on the backstop in her talks with Brussels.
EU leaders have indicated that they are deeply reluctant to give any further ground unless they can be sure it will get a majority in Parliament.
Following the vote, Mr Corbyn said the Government needed a new strategy that could bring MPs together and avoid the the “catastrophe” of no-deal.
“The Government cannot keep on ignoring Parliament and ploughing on towards March 29 without a coherent plan,” he said.
“She cannot keep on just running down the clock and hoping that something will turn up that will save her day and save her face.”
Downing Street however insisted the Prime Minister would carry on with her negotiations with Brussels while accusing the Labour leader of putting party ahead of country.
“Jeremy Corbyn yet again put partisan considerations ahead of the national interest – and yet again, by voting against the Government’s motion, he is in effect voting to make no-deal more likely,” a No 10 spokesman said.
“While we didn’t secure the support of the Commons this evening, the Prime Minister continues to believe, and the debate itself indicated, that far from objecting to securing changes to the backstop that will allow us to leave with a deal, there was a concern from some Conservative colleagues about taking no-deal off the table at this stage.
“The motion on January 29 remains the only one the House of Commons has passed expressing what it does want – and that is legally binding changes to address concerns about the backstop. The Government will continue to pursue this with the EU to ensure we leave on time on March 29.”
The defeat had been largely unexpected with most attention focused on the next set of votes due on February 27 which is expected to see a cross-party push to prevent a no-deal break.
Solicitor General Robert Buckland said the result was “disappointing” but that there were “bigger and more important events” to come.
“I think we will look back at this as a hiccup, but no more than that,” he said.
Other ministers however turned angrily on the ERG accusing them of operating as “a party within a party”.
Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood said: “They caused this tonight and they are acting as a party within a party and that is frustrating.”
ERG deputy chairman Steve Baker said they had not been prepared to be “co-opted” into taking no-deal off the table, but that the Prime Minister’s negotiating mandate remained unchanged.
“This is most unfortunate, but it’s a storm in a teacup,” he told the BBC.
“It’s time for some people to grow up and think about what is in the national interest.
“That is standing firm that we are leaving and then negotiating with the EU to get an acceptable deal.”
However the pro-Remain Tory Anna Soubry said the vote was a “serious blow” to Mrs May’s credibility.
“We are in such a mess, I’m afraid, that Parliament is going to have to take back control of this,” she said.
“It is a symbol, I’m afraid, of the profound lack of leadership, actually, in both political parties.”