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MPs defeat Theresa May's Brexit deal

by Paul Francis and Geoffrey Bew

The government has suffered a crushing defeat over its Brexit deal with MPs voting not to accept it.

After a debate lasting several hours, the plans set out by Theresa May for the UK's withdrawal from the EU were rejected by a majority of 230.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn immediately tabled a motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister, which will be debated in parliament tomorrow.

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Prime Minister Theresa May
Prime Minister Theresa May

As expected, many Conservative MPs registered their opposition to the deal, leaving a question mark over the fate of the Prime Minister Theresa May.

Kent Conservative MPs were among those who rejectedthe deal with nine voting against the government.

The final result after a passionate debate was:

  • For the deal: 202
  • Against the deal: 432

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If the government was defeated in the vote of no confidence then it could trigger a general election.

Speaking immediately after the result was announced in parliament, Mrs May said: "First we need to confirm whether this government still enjoys the confidence of the house, which I believe it does.

"But given the scale and importance of tonight's vote it's right that others have the chance to test that question if they wish to do so.

"I can therefore confirm that if the official opposition table a confidence motion this evening the government will make time to debate that motion tomorrow.

WATCH: How tonight's events unfolded

"If the house confirms its confidence in this government, I will then hold meetings with my colleagues and our confidence and supply partner the DUP and senior parliamentarians across the house to identify what would be required to secure the backing of the house.

"The government will approach these meetings in a constructive spirit, but given the urgent need to make progress we must focus on ideas that are genuinely negotiable and have sufficient support in this house.

"If these meetings yield such ideas we would then explore them with the European Union.

"Finally I want to end by offering two reassurances.

"The first is to those who fear that the government's strategy is simply to run down the clock to the 29th of March, that is not our strategy.

"I've always believed that the best way forward is to leave in an orderly way with a good deal and have devoted much of the last two years negotiating such a deal.

"The second reassurance is to the British people who voted to leave the European Union in the referendum two and a half years ago.

"I became Prime Minister immediately after that referendum and I believe it is my duty to deliver on their instruction and I intend to do so.

"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."

Speaking immediately after Mrs May, Mr Corbyn said: "The result of tonight's vote is the greatest defeat for a government since the 1920s in this house.

"This is a catastrophic defeat for this government.

"After two years of failed negotiations the House of Commons has delivered its verdict on her Brexit deal and that verdict is absolutely decisive.

"I hear the words of the Prime Minister but the actions of the government in the last 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.

"No deal must be taken off the table, a permanent customs union must be secured and people's rights and protections must be guaranteed so they do not fall behind.

"At every turn the Prime Minister has closed the door on dialogue.

"Businesses begged her to negotiate a comprehensive customs union, trade union leaders pressed her for the same thing. They were ignored.

"In the last two years she's only had one priority - the Conservative Party.

"The governing principle of delay and denial has reached the end of the line.

"She cannot seriously believe that after two years of failure she is capable of negotiating a good deal for the people of this country.

"The most important issue facing us is that the government has lost of the confidence of this house and this country and therefore Mr Speaker I inform you that I have tabled a motion of no confidence in this government."

Reacting to the vote result, Paul Cooper, deputy chairman of the Faversham and Mid Kent Conservative Association, said: "It simply shows how out of touch 202 of our MPs are. Shame on them.

"This simply reinforces that the government must stay true to their commitments in their 2017 manifesto, and should it mean a clean break on World Trade Organisation terms then all the better."

Writing for her weekly column in the Kent Messenger, Maidstone and The Weald MP Helen Grant said: "The result, when it came, was not a huge surprise and clearly we have some way to go before our future crystallises.

"No doubt the Prime Minister will tirelessly return to Brussels to seek changes to the Withdrawal Agreement, particularly on the imperfect Backstop.

"That might be all that is required to swing the support.

"Another public vote or a general election will not fix this and to leave without an agreement is potentially very dark and dangerous territory.

"Furthermore, it is important to remember, that any other deal negotiated with the EU will require a Withdrawal Agreement.

MPs have delivered a stinging verdict on Theresa May's Brexit deal with the EU
MPs have delivered a stinging verdict on Theresa May's Brexit deal with the EU

"Ultimately, upon her return next week, it will be for MPs to come together and deliver on the result of the 2016 referendum.

"I will remain steadfast in playing my part, alongside colleagues, to help to find a solution to break the Brexit deadlock.

"We must rise to this responsibility and that is surely not too much for our constituents to expect."

ANALYSIS

by our political editor Paul Francis:

There has not been much that has been predictable about Brexit since the referendum in 2016 - with one exception.

The result of tonight’s historic vote saw a defeat for the Prime Minister which had been expected and indeed conceded by MPs.

But the scale of that defeat was a further surprise, the margin beating comfortably the previous record set by Ramsey Macdonald.

It is not a record that Theresa May will want to hold. Despite some frenetic lobbying at the 11th hour, the PM failed to win over waverers in her own party and other parties.

So, the result leaves the government in precisely the same situation: deadlocked and without an obvious way out.

Kent MPs played their part with nine rejecting the deal but did so for different reasons - which underscored the problem facing the government, namely that voters wanted to pull out of the EU for not one single issue but a range.

The government’s insistence that it was right to put forward the deal knowing that it was almost certain to be defeated will strike some as politically reckless.

The price to be paid could be personally high for the PM whose already diminished authority has been further eroded.

As to how a new deal will be brokered after this calamitous episode is anyone’s guess.

But voters who were repeatedly told that the deal was the only deal in town - or Brussels - may be justifiably sceptical about declarations that a brand new shiney one can be fashioned out of the one comprehensively rejected by MPs.

The Prime Minister had made 11th hour efforts to win over wavering backbenchers, warning that any failure to back the deal could be catastrophic and devastating for trust in politicians.

However, her attempts to woo MPs was undermined by the decision of Dartford MP Gareth Johnson to resign as a government whip so he could vote against the deal.

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