Theresa May will today give MPs a free vote on leaving the European Union without a deal after her withdrawal agreement was rejected for a second time.
With just 16 days to go until the UK is due to leave the EU, MPs voted by 391 to 242 against the prime minister’s deal despite Mrs May securing last minute legal assurances on the controversial Northern Ireland backstop from Brussels.
Mrs May, speaking immediately after the vote, said she “profoundly regrets the decision” taken by MPs.
She said: “I continue to believe that by far the best outcome is the UK leaves the European Union in orderly fashion with a deal.
“And that the deal we have negotiated is the best and indeed only deal available.”
Announcing the free vote, Mrs May told MPs: “This is an issue of grave importance for the future of our country.
“For that reason, I can confirm that this will be a free vote on this side of the House.”
Mrs May also revealed that, in anticipation of the vote, the government would publish a batch of “essential policies” which would need to be put in place if the UK were to leave without a deal.
These policies will cover the UK’s approach to tariffs and the Northern Ireland border.
Aberdeen South Tory MP Ross Thomson, who voted against the deal, said he could not support something that delivered Brexit “in name only”.
He said: “I wrestled with what was the right thing to do. The vote tonight was about setting the future of our country for a generation.
“Politicians come and go but what is written in law will remain. Britain can do better than this, which is why I could not vote for this deal.”
His colleague Gordon Tory MP Colin Clark said MPs had “blown the chance” to leave the EU with a deal, he said: “The vote brings the prospect of a no deal closer which the SNP and Labour claim they do not want.
“I have spent 25 years in business, which has taught me to take the long view. I supported the prime minister’s deal, which was good for jobs and business, and would have put an end to uncertainty.”
Moray Tory MP Douglas Ross was dramatically unable to take part in the vote as his wife went into labour not long after debate on the deal started in the Commons.
Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP Jamie Stone, who is the Lib Dem’s Scotland spokesman, said Mrs May had now “lost authority” and “cannot take this forward”.
He said: “MPs should extend Article 50 to allow time to exit from this mess through a people’s vote with the option of remaining in the EU.”
An extension requires the unanimous agreement of all 27 remaining member states, and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has warned that it cannot stretch beyond May 23 unless the UK takes part in the European Parliament elections starting on that date.
Following the vote, a spokesman for European Council president Donald Tusk said: “On the EU side we have done all that is possible to reach an agreement. Given the additional assurances provided by the EU in December, January and yesterday, it is difficult to see what more we can do. If there is a solution to the current impasse it can only be found in London.”
The spokesman said that the EU stood by the withdrawal agreement reached in November.
But he added: “With only days left to March 29, today’s vote has significantly increased the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit. We will continue our no-deal preparations and ensure that we will be ready if such a scenario arises.”