The shoogly peg on which Theresa May’s coat has been hanging since her disastrous snap election in April 2017 was last night in a more precarious position than it has ever been.
The humiliation suffered by the prime minister in the House of Commons vote is the most serious catastrophe to engulf her during a Downing Street tenure marked by almost permanent crisis.
The defeat of her Brexit deal was widely predicted but the sheer scale of it, at 230 votes, was jaw-dropping and unprecedented in Commons history.
Under normal circumstances such a loss would mean the end of the road for the prime minister.
Tory and DUP fears of a general election mean Mrs May will probably survive today’s vote of no confidence.
Even so, an enormous question mark hangs over her future and her deal. Despite her promises to engage with Parliament and return to Brussels, it is very difficult to see how she can tweak her proposals over the next few days to satisfy the House of Commons.
The deal is in its death throes. There is no sign of a Plan B and “no deal” looms larger on the horizon. Admittedly, the prime minister has faced the most difficult of tasks – trying to navigate Brexit through the Commons when the majority of parliamentary opinion is at odds with the public’s opinion, as expressed in the 2016 EU referendum.
Mrs May has also been hamstrung by the deep Conservative divisions on Europe.
But from the time she called the snap election, which cost the prime minister her majority, Mrs May has played a bad hand poorly.
Last night’s rejection of her deal was a product of her stubbornness and a reluctance to reach out to others. Her inflexibility has been a defining feature of a flawed negotiating style. Adding a further layer of complexity has been the divided nature of Labour led by Jeremy Corbyn, whose own Brexit strategy seems to have been more about maximising the prime minister’s discomfiture than the good of the country.
In Parliament yesterday, Mrs May’s supporters were unable to support the deal unreservedly, with many saying they were supporting it for “pragmatic” reasons on the basis it is the only Brexit option on the table.
Critically, as far as Mrs May was concerned, far too many Tories were unable to take that step and voted down her deal on the basis that it was a bad one.
The Northern Irish backstop has been a touchstone issue – a matter that has had particular resonance for Scottish Conservatives, some of whom voted against the deal on the basis that it undermines the integrity of the Union.
In the north and north-east, concerns that the Withdrawal Agreement could give foreign vessels increased access to UK waters has been a crucial issue for local Brexiteers Ross Thomson and Douglas Ross, who were unable to support Mrs May.
Some fighting against a hard Brexit will hope that last night’s shambles gives them the chance to go for a Norway-style softer EU withdrawal, while Remainers, including SNP parliamentarians and the Lib Dems, shout louder for a so-called People’s Vote that they hope will overturn the Leave vote of 2016.
Delaying Brexit by extending Article 50 will also continue to be discussed.
But as the clock continues to tick towards the Leave date of March 29, the way forward seems more elusive than ever.