BRITAIN was tonight plunged into chaos once again as MPs voted to kill off Theresa May’s Brexit deal by 391 votes to 242.
Now 993 days after the referendum, and with just 17 days before Brexit, Brits are still in the dark about when or if we will ever leave the EU.
Furious MPs blasted the uncertainty – saying the “wretched soap opera of Brexit continues” as the country heads “back to square one”.
And Cabinet ministers were summoned for a crisis meeting at No10 to work out how to move forward.
Parliament has repeatedly voted against Mrs May’s strategy for leaving the EU on March 29 – tonight the Commons laughed and cheered after the the fresh chaos was confirmed.
But without a clear alternative on the table, the latest defeat opens the door to a range of wildly different outcomes – from a cliff-edge No Deal to a second referendum which could cancel Brexit entirely.
Tomorrow MPs will vote on whether Britain should quit the EU without a deal in 17 days’ time.
But they are expected to oppose the idea – and will instead back a delay to Brexit in a further vote likely to take place on Thursday.
Tory MP Bob Seely, who voted for the deal, warned that tonight’s result would “prolong the Brexit purgatory” and “grab defeat from the jaws of victory”.
He said: “This entire episode is becoming a shambles that reflects appallingly on this current House of Commons. There are now no good options.”
Ex-minister Stephen Crabb added: “A coalition of the principled, the tribal, the ideologues, opportunists and conspiracy theorists have again blocked Brexit.”
Senior backbencher Sir Roger Gale said: “It is astonishing that so many Brexiteer MPs have effectively voted against Brexit. If this ends in no Brexit they will be to blame.”
And Sir Graham Brady, head of the Tories’ powerful 1922 Committee, warned: “The danger, now, I think over the next couple of days is that things might get more confusing rather than more straightforward.”
Voting against leaving without a deal and for an extension does not solve the problems we face
Speaking in the House of Commons after her deal was defeated by 149 votes, the PM confirmed that she will offer MPs the chance to say whether or not they back a No Deal Brexit.
She said Conservatives would have a “free vote” leaving it to their own conscience – and hinted that she will argue against leaving the EU without a deal.
Mrs May said: “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.
“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.”
She concluded: “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.”
Lib Dem Layla Moran, a backer of the pro-EU Best for Britain group, told The Sun: “The Prime Minister has failed the country. Three years on and we’re back to square one. It’s humiliating.”
She said Mrs May should “hang her head in shame” and called for an immediate delay to the Article 50 process.
European leaders said they’d ramp up their preparations for No Deal and claimed further talks are now impossible.
COXED IT UP
A total of 75 Tories voted against the deal tonight, while the PM managed to win over just three Labour MPs.
Nearly 40 backbenchers who opposed the deal in January changed their mind – including ex-Brexit Secretary David Davis and other high-profile figures such as Zac Goldsmith, Nadine Dorries, Johnny Mercer and Rob Halfon.
But with most of the hardline European Research Group standing firm in their opposition – joined by a handful of Tories who back a second referendum – Mrs May was condemned to a heavy defeat.
Tonight’s rebellion came after the PM’s own legal adviser warned the tweaks she hammered out last night aren’t enough to stop the UK being trapped in the backstop.
In a last-ditch bid to stave off Commons humiliation, an exhausted-sounding Mrs May told MPs: “If this vote is not passed tonight, if this deal is not passed, Brexit may be lost.
“Support this deal, in which case we leave the European Union with a deal. Or risk No Deal, or no Brexit. These are the options.
“Members across this house should ask themselves if they want to make the perfect the enemy of the good.”
The Prime Minister showed the strain she is under as she croaked her way through an hour-long address, losing her voice in an echo of her disastrous 2017 conference speech.
This morning the Attorney General killed off her chances of winning over rebel MPs – warning that the “risk remains unchanged” of the backstop lasting indefinitely if trade talks break down.
Geoffrey Cox urged MPs to back the deal, but admitted it does not provide the escape route Brexiteers have demanded.
In a letter to the PM, he said the fixes negotiated with the EU “reduce the risk” of Britain getting trapped in the backstop as a result of Brussels failing to take trade talks serious.
But he concluded that if negotiations on a future trade deal break down due to “intractable differences”, there is still no way for Britain to end the backstop agreement and quit the European customs union.
This deal has now reached the end of the road
Boris Johnson led the Eurosceptic backlash, pledging to kill off the deal for good.
He told the Commons: “They have sowed an apron of figleaves but they have done nothing to conceal the embarrassment and indignity of the UK.
“It ties our hands for the future and it sets us on the path to a subordinate position for the EU which is clearly based on the customs union and parts of the single market.
“This deal has now reached the end of the road, and if it is rejected tonight I hope it will be put to bed.”
He called for Britain to take the “path to self-respect” and quit the EU without a deal.
Jacob Rees-Mogg insisted the UK is now heading for No Deal and predicted the EU would block any request for a delay to Brexit.
This afternoon the ERG and DUP teamed up to deliver the killer blow – Nigel Dodds, deputy leader of the Unionists, told Mr Cox in the Commons: “The fact is that Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom could be trapped.”
Bill Cash, who chaired a group of ERG lawyers assessing the deal, said: “In the light of our own legal analysis and others we do not recommend accepting the Government’s motion today.”
In their full legal advice, the group said Mrs May’s tweaks do not form “legally binding changes” to the withdrawal agreement which can sway Brexiteers.
At a meeting of the full ERG, a majority of Brexiteers agreed to unite against the deal.
Mrs May summoned all Tory MPs to meeting this morning to try and win them over.
One backbencher told the PM she had won him over, saying: “We were waiting for you to pull a rabbit out of the hat. You’ve brought us a hamster but I’m happy with that.”
Ben Bradley, who resigned as a Tory vice-chair in protest against the deal, revealed he’d changed his mind as the prospect of a Brexit reversal came closer.
He said: “I will support the amended deal this evening, though I do not entirely like it. I could not countenance or justify voting against it if it led ultimately to Brexit falling by the wayside; if it led to letting down 17.4million people.
“The changes the PM has achieved, though not perfect, shift the balance of risk. Passing this deal and securing this gets us out, gives us the opportunity to move forward and fight again, whilst rejecting it leads in all probability to long delay at best.”
Another Leave-backing MP told The Sun: “It’s finally dawning among Brexiteers that’s it’s this or Brexit gets stopped. The Brexit quicksand will start tomorrow if we reject this. People are changing their minds quickly.”
Senior backbencher and May ally Charles Walker predicted that the Prime Minister would have to trigger an election to change the Commons arithmetic.
He said: “If it doesn’t go through as sure as night follows day there will be a General Election within a matter of days or weeks. It is not sustainable.”
Mrs May last night jetted to Strasbourg for last-ditch talks with top Eurocrats Jean-Claude Juncker and Michel Barnier.
She secured a three-part deal designed to ensure Britain can never be trapped in the backstop with no means of escape.
Mr Juncker warned the EU will not reopen talks – saying: “There will be no third chance.”
The PM was in negotiations with EU bosses until almost midnight on trying to seal a way out of the backstop.