MPs voted by 344 votes to 286 to reject the key pillar of the deal, the Withdrawal Agreement — a majority of 58. May said the implications of the result were “grave,” adding “I fear we are reaching the limits of this process in this house.”
But she hinted that she might try to bring the deal back before MPs for a fourth time, saying she would continue to press for an “orderly Brexit.”
The result means the UK will not meet an 11 p.m. deadline to approve the deal and forfeits an automatic extension of the Article 50 negotiating period until May 22 offered by the EU last week. The government must now, by April 12, present a new way forward to the EU, most likely involving a longer extension and requiring the UK to take part in European Parliament election. Otherwise the country will leave with no deal.
Immediately after the decision European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted that he would schedule an emergency summit. “In view of the rejection of the Withdrawal Agreement by the House of Commons, I have decided to call a European Council on 10 April,” he wrote.
Prime Minister Theresa May had attempted to persuade MPs to change tack by asking them to vote on the Withdrawal Agreement alone, in isolation from the accompanying Political Declaration on the future relationship. MPs are seeking a majority for alternative proposals that could be enshrined in the Political Declaration, and May’s government had indicated that these might play a role in shaping their next steps.
“I remain committed to the United Kingdom leaving the European Union … this is the last opportunity to save Brexit,” May told MPs in a speech closing the debate before the vote. “If we do not vote for this motion today, people will ask why did you not vote for Brexit.”
“Today’s motion is not about a blind Brexit, it is about a guaranteed Brexit,” she added, addressing Labour’s claim that by leaving out the Political Declaration it was not clear where Brexit was headed.
The vote was closer than the two previous attempts to ratify the deal as a whole. In January May faced the biggest defeat for a government in recorded parliamentary history, losing out by 230 votes. Earlier in March she lost again, by 149 votes.
May told Conservative MPs earlier this week she would stand down before the next phase of Brexit negotiations if her deal was passed. The timetable for her departure now the deal has been rejected again is unclear.