British lawmakers defeated Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit divorce deal by a crushing margin on Tuesday, triggering political chaos that could lead to a disorderly exit from the EU or even to a reversal of the 2016 decision to leave.
After parliament voted 432-202 against her deal, the worst defeat in modern British history, opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn promptly called a vote of no confidence in May’s government, to be held at 1900 GMT on Wednesday.
With the clock ticking down to March 29, the date set in law for Brexit, the United Kingdom is now ensnared in the deepest political crisis in half a century as it grapples with how, or even whether, to exit the European project that it joined in 1973.
“It is clear that the House does not support this deal, but tonight’s vote tells us nothing about what it does support,” May told parliament, moments after the result was announced.
“... nothing about how - or even if - it intends to honour the decision the British people took in a referendum parliament decided to hold.”
More than 100 of May’s own Conservative MPs - both Brexit backers and supporters of EU membership - joined forces to vote down the deal. In doing so, they smashed the previous record defeat for a government, a 166-vote margin, set in 1924.
The humiliating loss, the first British parliamentary defeat of a treaty since 1864, appeared to catastrophically undermine May’s two-year strategy of forging an amicable divorce with close ties to the EU after the March 29 exit.
With May vowing to stand by her deal and Labour trying to trigger a national election, parliament is still effectively deadlocked, with no alternative proposal.
May’s spokesman told reporters that May’s deal could still form the basis of an accord with the EU, but opponents disagreed.
“This deal is dead,” said Boris Johnson, the Conservative Party’s most prominent Brexiteer, who urged May to go back to Brussels to seek better terms.