Theresa May’s Brexit deal rejected overwhelmingly by UK lawmakers

brexit deal vote count screengrab
Theresa May's Brexit deal suffers another huge defeat
00:44 - Source: CNN

What we're covering

A catastrophic defeat: British Prime Minister Theresa May suffered another shattering loss in parliament after lawmakers voted against her Brexit deal by 391 to 242.

What happens now? Lawmakers have been promised another vote on Wednesday, in which they can decide whether the UK should crash out of the EU without a deal. If that, too, is rejected, parliament could then vote on whether to request a Brexit extension.

When is Brexit happening? The United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union in 16 days – on March 29.

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We'll be back tomorrow

 British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves Downing Street on March 12, 2019.

Like Theresa May, who we suspect is already tucked up in bed with some hot cocoa and cough syrup after battling with a hoarse voice all day, we’re calling it a night here in London.

In case you missed all the action, here’s our coverage of this evening’s vote, which saw the PM suffer a second humiliating defeat over Brexit – the rejection of her withdrawal agreement by a massive 149 votes.

We’ll be back in the morning, London time, for another Brexit-filled day, as MPs debate, and then vote on whether to back leaving the EU without a deal.

In the meantime, Luke McGee has answers to all those Brexit questions swirling around in everyone’s brains.

EU leaders react to tonight's vote

Several European leaders have tweeted their disappointment at parliament’s decision to reject Theresa May’s Brexit plan, even after additional assurances from the EU.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez tweeted that he “regrets” how tonight unfolded “despite the EU’s effort to achieve the best agreement.”

He added: “We need pro-European governments. Let’s protect Europe so that Europe can protect us.”

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte also tweeted, saying the only way forward is for London to find a solution and that like other EU nations, the Netherlands is stepping up preparations for a no-deal Brexit.

While Denmark’s Prime Minister, Lars Rasmussen, simply wrote: “Very sad.”

What happens next?

Lawmakers have soundly rejected Theresa May’s Brexit deal for a second time, so what happens next?

In line with a promise set out by the Prime Minister last month, MPs will vote Wednesday on whether they support the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal on March 29.

But a vote against a no-deal Brexit would not actually prevent the UK leaving the EU in 17 days, since Article 50, which mandates the UK’s departure, has already been triggered.

So if lawmakers reject “no deal,” a third vote is expected on Thursday, in which MPs will vote on whether they support delaying the divorce process entirely.

If they back that, the PM will have to put in an Article 50 extension request to the EU.

The heads of all 27 remaining EU countries would have to approve any such request.

UK Government "should be hanging their heads in shame," says Nicola Sturgeon

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has issued a seething statement, saying tonight’s vote was “entirely predictable” and something that could have been avoided if the UK government “had been prepared to listen … and engage constructively.”

“Instead, we have a government that has effectively ceased to function and a country that remains poised on a cliff edge,” Sturgeon said in a statement.

“Scotland’s needs and voice have been ignored by the UK government throughout the Brexit process,” she said, adding that the case for Scotland to become an independent country has “never been stronger.”

Theresa May's statement in full

“I profoundly regret the decision that this House has taken tonight.
I continue to believe that by far the best outcome is that the UK leaves the EU in an orderly fashion with a deal, and that the deal we have negotiated is the best and indeed the only deal available.
Mr Speaker, I would like to set out briefly how the Government means to proceed.
Two weeks ago, I made a series of commitments from this despatch box regarding the steps we would take in the event that this House rejected the deal on offer. I stand by those commitments in full.
Therefore, tonight we will table a motion for debate tomorrow to test whether the House supports leaving the European Union without a deal on 29th March.
The Leader of the House will shortly make an emergency business statement confirming the change to tomorrow’s business.
This is an issue of grave importance for the future of our country. Just like the referendum, there are strongly held and equally legitimate views on both sides.
For that reason, I can confirm that this will be a free vote on this side of the House.
I have personally struggled with this choice as I am sure many other Honourable Members will. I am passionate about delivering the result of the referendum. But I equally passionately believe that the best way to do that is to leave in an orderly way with a deal and I still believe there is a majority in the House for that course of action. And I am conscious also of my duties as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of the potential damage to the Union that leaving without a deal could do when one part of our country is without devolved governance.
I can therefore confirm that the motion will read:
“That this House declines to approve leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework on the Future Relationship on 29 March 2019; and notes that leaving without a deal remains the default in UK and EU law unless this House and the EU ratify an agreement.”
I will return to the House to open the debate tomorrow and to take interventions from Honourable Members. And to ensure the House is fully informed in making this historic decision, the Government will tomorrow publish information on essential policies which would need to be put in place if we were to leave without a deal. These will cover our approach to tariffs and the Northern Ireland border, among other matters.
If the House votes to leave without a deal on 29 March, it will be the policy of the Government to implement that decision.
If the House declines to approve leaving without a deal on 29 March, the Government will, following that vote, bring forward a motion on Thursday on whether Parliament wants to seek an extension to article 50.
If the House votes for an extension, the Government will seek to agree that extension with the EU and bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit date commensurate with that extension.
But let me be clear. Voting against leaving without a deal and for an extension does not solve the problems we face.
The EU will want to know what use we mean to make of such an extension.
This House will have to answer that question. Does it wish to revoke Article 50? Does it want to hold a second referendum? Or does it want to leave with a deal but not this deal?
These are unenviable choices, but thanks to the decision the House has made this evening they must now be faced.”

Who voted for what?

A total of 75 Conservative lawmakers from Theresa May’s party rebelled to reject her Brexit deal, according to figures published on the UK’s parliamentary website.

Here’s the full breakdown of how MPs voted tonight:

For:

  • Conservatives: 235
  • Labour: 3
  • Independent: 4

Against:

  • Conservative: 75
  • Labour: 238
  • Scottish National Party: 35
  • Liberal Democrats: 11
  • Democratic Unionist Party: 10
  • Plaid Cymru: 4
  • Independent: 17
  • Green Party: 1

Markets react to vote: Pound trims losses

The pound trimmed its losses after UK lawmakers voted against the latest version of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

The currency, which had been volatile ahead of the vote, was trading down 0.4% against the US dollar.

Investors are hopeful that lawmakers will follow up the major defeat for May with a vote on Wednesday to rule out a disorderly Brexit.

The key Brexit questions you've wanted to ask, answered

Is Brexit going away

Nice try! No. Brexit is happening on March 29 unless the UK applies for an extension to article 50. That vote is probably going to take place on Thursday. The EU Council meets next week (March 21) which would likely be May’s nearest chance to apply for such an extension. 

Could the EU kick the UK out of the EU?

Short answer yes, but why would they? If the EU wanted a no deal crash out, they only need to wait another 17 days. 

Can the EU laugh and say no, when/if the UK asks for more time?

I doubt they would laugh – Eurocrats are not famed for their sense of humor (apart from Donald Tusk) – but with a heavy heart, the leaders of the EU 27 members states could decline the UK’s request for an extension to article 50. It only takes one member state to veto the extension and many of them have good reason for doing so. The EU has been consistent that if the UK asks for an extension with sensible suggestions as to how they can get out of this trench, it would be carefully considered. But EU diplomats have also made clear for months that they see no point is delaying only to end up back where we are now. 

Is Theresa May going to resign?

History says no, at least in the immediate future. May has an extraordinary ability to cling on to power. With an EU summit days away and Brexit far from sorted, May is, whatever you think of her, a dedicated public servant. It’s hard to see how she would see it’s in the best interests of the UK to suddenly create uncertainty around the leadership of the country, on top of everything else. 

What about another referendum?

Right now, the clearest path to a second Brexit vote is if the opposition Labour Party puts forward an amendment that a majority of the House of Commons backs. Labour recently adopted a formal policy of backing a second public vote on Brexit, should their alternative plan to May’s be defeated in a commons vote, which it was last month. But people hoping to see Brexit cancelled should keep the champagne corked for the time being. Labour hasn’t tabled any such amendment to date, and there’s a pretty good reason for that: they don’t think it will pass. The risk of losing that vote is too great to play around with and would both undermine the authority of the opposition and exacerbate divisions within the party. Yes, it’s not just May’s Conservatives that have problems… 

The other reason Remainers should hold off the celebrations is this: it’s not clear that even if a second public vote were to be held, Remain would be on the ballot. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, has been careful not to endorse the so-called “People’s Vote” campaign and instead always words his second referendum plan as a second public vote.

What about another election?

Now you’re talking. Some think that Labour only backed a second vote because of its ultimate desire to force an early general election – something the party believes it could win. Labour saw success in the 2017 snap election by having a Schrodinger’s Brexit policy – appearing more Europhile that the Conservatives while officially supporting leaving the EU. Formally backing a second referendum has a similar affect, especially if the government continually blocks the possibility of it happening. 

And if you think this sounds far-fetched, today, Labour aides were celebrating the fact that the Commons speaker John Bercow didn’t accept any amendments.

Is the threat that Brexit can be lost real?

The sight of May and President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker sat side-by-side Monday night, claiming it was this deal or no Brexit, was nothing short of extraordinary. Both know that this isn’t really true. The only way Brexit can be lost is if the UK revokes Article 50. It would need to pass an act of parliament to do so, which without a public vote instructing parliament to do so is a total non-starter. It could happen, but it would require first a Brexit delay, then a national vote with a huge majority. 

EU's Brexit negotiator hints no-deal exit is on the card

Michel Barnier, the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, is clearly singing from the same hymn sheet as European Council President Donald Tusk, tweeting that the EU “has done everything it can to help get the Withdrawal Agreement over the line.”

Like Tusk, Barnier hinted that tonight’s result had increased the chances that the UK will crash out of the EU without a deal.

EU has "done all that is possible," says Tusk

European Council President Donald Tusk says the EU is “disappointed” by tonight’s Brexit result – and that it has done “all that is possible to reach an agreement” with the UK.

“Given the additional assurances provided by the EU in December, January and yesterday, it is difficult to see what more we can do. If there is a solution to the current impasse it can only be found in London,” Tusk said in a statement, supplied by his spokesman.

“With only 17 days left to 29 March, today’s vote has significantly increased the likelihood of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. We will continue our no-deal preparations and ensure that we will be ready if such a scenario arises.”

Opposition leader says May's time is up

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking in Parliament.

Addressing the House of Commons after MPs inflicted a resounding defeat on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said the PM’s time was up.

“The Prime Minister has run down the clock, and the clock has been run out on her.”

The Labour leader suggested that perhaps it was time for a general election.

May says she "profoundly regrets" loss

British Prime Minister Theresa May has told the House of Commons she “profoundly regrets” the fact that lawmakers opted to vote against her Brexit deal.

Struggling to speak as she is losing her voice, she said she still passionately believes that the best course for the UK is to leave the EU in an “orderly manner,” with a deal.

“The deal we negotiated is the best and indeed the only deal available,” May added.

“Leaving without a deal remains the default in UK and EU law.”

On Wednesday, lawmakers will be given the chance to vote on whether they support leaving the EU without a deal. 

BREAKING: Theresa May’s Brexit deal suffers another huge defeat

In a major rejection, British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal deal was voted down by lawmakers in the House of Commons.

MPs rejected the agreement by 391 votes to 242 – a majority of 149.

It’s the second time her deal has failed.

The coming days will be unpredictable, as British lawmakers vote on whether to crash out of the European Union without a deal, or to delay the divorce process.

May had hoped that changes to her deal agreed with the EU at the last minute on Monday night would get her deal across the line, but many lawmakers remained reluctant to back it.

'No' lobby chamber full, lawmakers tweet

British lawmakers are tweeting that the “no” lobby – where MPs are voting on Theresa May’s Brexit deal – is “absolutely rammed.”

“Haven’t seen the no lobby this full since the last meaningful vote,” Tim Farron from the Liberal Democrats wrote.

Happening now: British lawmakers vote on May's Brexit deal

British MPs are now voting on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal for the second time, almost two months after it suffered the largest ever Commons defeat. The result of the vote is expected imminently.

Lawmakers admit May's deal isn't perfect, but it'll have to do

Conservative lawmakers continue admit that while Theresa May’s deal isn’t perfect, they have chosen to support it.

Edward Leigh appealed to MPs in the House of Commons that if they reject the Prime Minister’s deal, they are going against the “will of the people” who voted to leave the EU on March 29.

“There is a much greater risk for us Brexiteers that parliament will block a no deal and the next day parliament will vote to extend article 50. For those of us who believe in Brexit and delivering the will of the people, that is a far greater risk – a far greater risk – than the fairly small risk of us being trapped in a backstop forever.

“So I appeal to my fellow Brexiteers – you may not like the deal, it’s not perfect, but it delivers Brexit and let’s go for it.”

While another Conservative MP, Tracey Crouch said she would support May’s deal “only to stop remainers from keeping us locked in the EU forever.”

EU negotiator warns UK about crashing out in 17 days time

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has warned UK lawmakers that without a withdrawal agreement, Britain will crash out of the EU on March 29.

“Let me be clear: the only legal basis for a transition is the WA. No withdrawal agreement means no transition,” he tweeted.

This is how today's Brexit vote will happen

The crunch Brexit vote is due to happen in the next 30 minutes. Here’s what you’ll see if you’re watching the action in the House of Commons at 7 p.m. UK time (3 p.m. ET):

The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, will say something along the lines of: “The Question is, that the Bill be read a second time. As many as are of that opinion say Aye.”

At this point, those who support the bill yell “Aye!” He then adds: “of the contrary No,” prompting those who are against it to shout “No!”

Bercow then says “I think the Ayes have it…” If MPs yell “No!” in response, he will announce a vote by bellowing: “Clear the Lobbies”. 

The division bell will then sound throughout the Houses of Parliament.

MPs will file out of the Commons to cast their vote by coming back into the chamber again, through one of the two division lobbies, the “Aye” lobby (to vote yes) or the “No” lobby, past clerks, who take their names, and tellers, who count up the votes.

They will have eight minutes to do this; once they are back inside, the doors are locked and the tellers announce the numbers of “Ayes to the left” and “Noes to the right.”

The Speaker will then repeat the numbers, and announce which side has won, either: “the Ayes have it,” or “the Noes have it,” before instructing the Parliamentary authorities to “Unlock the doors!”

Sinn Fein president says Irish unity referendum "essential" if the UK crashes out

Mary Lou McDonald, Sinn Fein president, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that Ireland has a “very unique set of circumstances. It was always the case, therefore, that a set of unique bespoke solutions would have to be offered for our island to protect our economy, our trade, our citizens, our rights, and crucially our peace process.”

The Brexit negotiation process, McDonald said, has been “marked by recklessness on the part of the Tory government.”

McDonald went on to say that, “Brexit has laid bare for all to see the real jeopardy that partition brings to the island of Ireland: to our economy, to our society, to our social fabric and to our institutions.”

“The fact is that the border on the island of Ireland is now no longer simply an Irish problem: it is now a European problem.”

Should the UK crash out of the European Union, McDonald said, “a referendum on Irish unity, I think, will be absolutely essential.”

Brexit should go back to the people, Independent Group MP says

Independent Group MP Joan Ryan has set out the breakaway group’s plans while speaking to CNN’s Hala Gorani. Tomorrow, the group will vote against a no deal Brexit – “that should be off the table,” Ryan said. Today, she added, they would vote against May’s deal.

On Thursday, the Independent Group will press for an extension of Article 50, Ryan said, adding, “We want that extension of Article 50, and we want a series of indicative votes to decide which withdrawal deal to put to the people.”

“We should go back to the people for a choice between the status quo – remain – or the withdrawal deal that gets the majority vote next week,” she said.

Boris Johnson says crashing out of the EU without a deal is the 'only safe route'

Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson speaking in the House of Commons.

Britain’s former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has lambasted the efforts of Prime Minister Theresa May and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox to disguise the “embarrassment” of their Brexit deal, saying “whatever the government has tried to do, it has not, I’m afraid, succeeded,” according to the UK’s Press Association.

“The result is like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden – they have sewed an apron of fig leaves that does nothing to conceal the embarrassment and indignity of the UK,” Johnson told the House of Commons.

“We can … decide that if the EU is unwilling to accept the minor changes that we propose that we’ll leave without a deal – and, yes, I accept that that is in the short term the more difficult road – but in the end it’s the only safe route out of the abyss and the only safe path to self respect.”

Some Conservative MPs switch to back May's deal

Several Conservative lawmakers who voted against Theresa May’s original Brexit deal in January have announced they will now support the Prime Minister’s bill this evening.

While some argue that it has been “improved,” others say the risk of a no-deal Brexit is just too high if the bill is voted down.

Meanwhile, Zac Goldsmith says he is still trying to decide how to cast his vote.

The MP says he’s weighing up which is worse: a flawed deal, or a no-deal Brexit.

"Fasten your seatbelt" for a hard Brexit, European Commission VP says

European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen says if British lawmakers reject Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement tonight, a “hard Brexit” will be closer than ever.

“Keep your hands on the wheel, look forward and fasten your seatbelt,” Katainen told reporters in Strasbourg, while miming buckling up and smiling.

It's getting wet and wild in Westminster

Demonstrators outside the Houses of Parliament are braving lashing rain and winds ahead of a highly anticipated vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal tonight.

Pro-Brexit protesters could be seen sheltering from the weather under plastic sheets, while a solitary remain supporter stood amid the traffic holding a European Union flag.

Theresa May loses her voice -- just when she needed it most

Prime Minister Theresa May lost her voice just when it seemed she needed it most, ahead of a crucial vote on her Brexit withdrawal agreement.

Stepping up to the despatch box on Tuesday afternoon, the PM was unable to say much more than “Mr Speaker,” before having to clear her throat.

Responding to jokes and heckling from Labour MPs in the House of Commons, the prime minister quipped: “you should hear Jean-Claude Juncker’s voice.”

It’s not the first time May’s voice has made headlines. Her speech to the Conservative Party Conference in 2017 was famously overshadowed by her croaky delivery and repeatedly interrupted by enforced pauses for coughs, splutters and gulps of water.