MPs have rejected Theresa May’s Brexit plans by an emphatic 432 votes to 202 in a historic vote which has thrown the future of her administration and the nature of the UK’s EU withdrawal into doubt.
The humiliating rebuff was delivered in the House of Commons just moments after the Prime Minister made a last-ditch appeal for MPs to back the Withdrawal Agreement which she sealed with Brussels in November after almost two years of negotiation.
The 118 Conservative rebels included fervent Brexiteers like Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg and former Brexit secretaries David Davis and Dominic Raab, as well as Remainers Anna Soubry and Dominic Grieve.
The 230-vote margin of defeat was by far the worst suffered by any Government in a meaningful division since at least the First World War and in normal circumstances would be enough to force a Prime Minister from office.
But Mrs May made clear she intends to stay on, setting out plans for talks with senior parliamentarians from parties across the Commons in the hope of finding “genuinely negotiable” solutions which she can take to Brussels.
Jeremy Corbyn said the “catastrophic” defeat represented an “absolutely decisive” verdict by MPs on Mrs May’s handling of Brexit.
He announced he has tabled a motion of no confidence in the Government, which will go to a Commons vote on Wednesday which could force an early general election if it wins the support of more than 50% of MPs.
But his hopes of ousting the PM were undermined when the DUP’s Sammy Wilson said that the Unionist party will back Mrs May in her fight for survival, saying: “We never wanted a change of government, we want a change of policy.”
And a spokesman for the European Research Group of eurosceptic Tories, chaired by Mr Rees-Mogg, confirmed that they too would back the Government.
Mrs May – who said she expected to survive Wednesday’s vote – has until January 21 to set out a Plan B, with the clock ticking on the scheduled date of Brexit in just 73 days’ time on March 29.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, who had cancelled travel plans in order to be in Brussels for the aftermath of the vote on Wednesday, voiced “regret” at the defeat of what he termed “the best possible deal”.
He said in a statement: “The risk of a disorderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom has increased with this evening’s vote. While we do not want this to happen, the European Commission will continue its contingency work to help ensure the EU is fully prepared.
“I urge the United Kingdom to clarify its intentions as soon as possible.
And European Council president Donald Tusk asked in a tweet: “If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?”
In a statement to the Commons immediately after her drubbing, the Prime Minister told MPs: “The House has spoken and this Government will listen. It is clear that this House does not support this deal, but tonight’s vote tells us nothing about what it does support.”
She said she would consult with Conservative colleagues, her Democratic Unionist Party allies and senior parliamentarians from across the Commons to identify “what now is required to secure the backing of the House”.
The PM promised to approach the talks “in a constructive spirit”, but cautioned that proposals would have to be “genuinely negotiable and have sufficient support in this House” if she was to take them back to Brussels to “explore” with the EU.
Mrs May assured MPs that she was not seeking to run the clock down to a no-deal Brexit in March, insisting that she still hoped to take the UK out of the EU “in an orderly way, with a good deal”.
And in a message to MPs she said: “Every day that passes without this issue being resolved means more uncertainty, more bitterness and more rancour.
“The Government has heard what the House has said tonight, but I ask members on all sides of the House to listen to the British people who want this issue settled and to work with the Government to do just that.”
Mr Corbyn said: “I hear the words of the Prime Minister but the actions of her Government in these past two years speak equally clearly.
“She is only attempting to reach out now to try to keep her failed deal alive after it has been so roundly rejected by Parliament on behalf of the people of this country…
“She cannot seriously believe that after two years of failure, she is capable of negotiating a good deal for the people of this country. On the most important issue facing us, this Government has lost the confidence of this House and this country.”
Arch-Brexiteer and former foreign secretary Mr Johnson told the Press Association: “I was slightly surprised by the scale of the defeat, but I take no particular pleasure in it.
“I would never rejoice in the idea of a Conservative government being defeated on anything.”
Mr Johnson added that the vote gave Mrs May a “massive mandate” to go back to the EU and call for a new approach that would allow the UK to “properly take advantage of Brexit”.
In further signs of Tory tensions, Tom Pursglove told the Press Association that he had resigned as a Conservative Party vice-chair in order to vote against the Brexit deal.
The MP for Corby was appointed to the role by Mrs May in July last year.
As the historic vote took place, noisy crowds of pro- and anti-Brexit protesters in Parliament Square could be heard inside the Palace of Westminster.
MPs had been due to vote first on a series of four amendments chosen by Speaker John Bercow.
But Mr Corbyn, Scottish National Party leader Ian Blackford and Tory backbencher Sir Edward Leigh opted not to move their amendments, leaving only one division.
In that vote, a proposal from Conservative MP John Baron for the UK to take unilateral powers to end controversial “backstop” arrangements was rejected by 600 votes to 24.
Heavily pregnant Labour MP Tulip Siddiq, who postponed her planned Caesarean in order to vote, attended the Commons in a wheelchair.