MPs vote down Theresa May’s Brexit deal

Theresa May Christopher Furlong – WPA Pool/Getty Images

LONDON – Theresa May ‘s Brexit deal with the European Union was rejected by MPs for a second time, with a massive House of Commons majority of 149 voting it down on Tuesday evening.

This came after Attorney General Geoffrey Cox advised MPs that tweaks to the controversial backstop for Northern Ireland had not removed the legal risk of the United Kingdom being stuck in it indefinitely.

This liveblog ended following the result of the vote on Tuesday evening. Scroll down to see what happened.

All times are in GMT.

20:35: So, now what?

With Theresa May’s Brexit deal in tatters, what happens next?Business Insider’s Adam Bienkov and Thomas Colson have you covered:

“The prime minister has committed to holding two key votes this week. The first, on Wednesday, will ask whether MPs support a no-deal Brexit. The second, on Thursday, will ask them whether they wish to delay Brexit by extending Article 50.

“A majority of MPs have already voted to express opposition to no deal, and parliament will likely express its opposition again on Wednesday.

“The more significant question is what happens on Thursday. If parliament votes for an Article 50 extension, May will be forced to request one in Brussels, a move which will be deeply unpopular with her own party.”

Read Business Insider’s full analysis on the likely outcomes »

20:22: Theresa May’s Brexit deal is voted down in a landslide.

Theresa May has suffered a landslide defeat on her Brexit deal for a second time after MPs rejected her revised agreement with the EU.

The House of Commons voted by 391 to 242 to reject May’s deal and the new “legally binding” assurances she had negotiated with the EU.

18:49: ERG to vote against the deal, result expected in 30 minutes


The European Research Group of pro-Brexit Conservative MPs have just ended its meeting.

Group leader Jacob Rees-Mogg told journalists including Business Insider’s Adam Payne that a “majority” of ERG MPs would be voting against the deal this evening.

That, plus the fact that the DUP is voting against the Withdrawal Agreement, points to another defeat for the prime minister. Forecasts suggest it could be by well over 100 votes.

Voting will begin at 19:00 with a result expected at around 19:15.

16:45: Johnny Mercer becomes the 18th switcher


Johnny Mercer becomes the 18th Conservative MP to say they have switched to supporting May’s deal.

Mercer – who is an outspoken critic of his party and its handling of Brexit – announced the decision on Twitter.

16:30: More Conservative switchers go public


The BBC’s Georgia Roberts is very usefully taking a tally of Conservative MPs who have publicly announced that they intend to vote for May’s deal having rejected it in January.

That tally is currently on 17.

The prime minister needs 99 more to win the vote tonight, or 49 to make sure the margin of defeat is in the double digits, rather than three figures.

She still has a lot of work to do.

15:40: ERG to meet before the vote

The European Research Group of pro-Brexit Conservative MPs will meet at around 18:00 to discuss how they will vote tonight.

Its leaders have said it cannot support the Withdrawal Agreement but some MPs in the group might decide to abstain.

15:05: … Make that 11!


Scott Mann becomes the 11th Conservative MP to publicly announce they are supporting May’s deal having voted against it in January.

It’s worth noting that some MPs may not go public with their decisions until it’s time to vote.

Saying that, the prime minister needs 116 to win tonight’s vote. That’s a lot.

14:48: 10 MPs have switched to backing May’s deal


Theresa May needs to convince 115 MPs who voted against her deal last time to change their minds tonight.

As of now, 10 Conservative MPs have publicly said they have switched from opposing to supporting the Withdrawal Agreement.

They are:

  • Mike Penning
  • John Lamont
  • Mark Pritchard
  • James Grey
  • Robert Halfon
  • Ben Bradley
  • Nigel Evans
  • Martin Vickers
  • Greg Hands
  • Robert Syms

14:35: Senior Conservative calls for a general election


Charles Walker – a senior Conservative who vice-chairs the party’s 1922 Committee – has called on Theresa May to trigger a general election if her deal is rejected again tonight.

“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,” he said in the last hour.

“I can’t see really how this government can continue in office.”

He said that if MPs reject May’s deal again, it would represent a “failing parliament,” and the prime minister would need to pursue “new mandate for the sake of the country.”

“If the deal doesn’t get through tonight there will have to be a General Election,” he told the BBC. Here’s a clip.

14:18: DUP confirms it won’t vote for May’s deal


The DUP has confirmed it will not be supporting the prime minister’s deal tonight, saying May has not made “sufficient progress” on the backstop in talks with the EU.

The BBC says that the DUP will vote against the deal, not abstain.

The party’s full statement is above.

13:26: DUP will vote against PM’s deal

A DUP source tells Sky News: “The party cannot support the Prime Minister’s deal in tonight’s vote.”

13:08: Confirmed — ERG lawyers tell Brexiteer MPs to vote against the deal

Jacob Rees-Mogg speaks to the media after submitting a letter of no confidence in Prime Minister Teresa May on November 15, 2018 in London, England. Dan Kitwood / Getty

As BI reported, ERG lawyers have recommended that the Brexiteer MPs vote against the PM’s Brexit deal tonight. They say the advice does not meet the tests the Government set itself.

Veteran Eurosceptic William Cash MP said: “In the light of our own legal analysis and others we do not recommend accepting the Government’s motion today.”

The members of the Star Chamber were: William Cash MP, Nigel Dodds MP, David Jones MP, Dominic Raab MP, Suella Braverman MP, Michael Tomlinson MP, Robert Courts MP, and Martin Howe QC.

13:03: More bad news for the Prime Minister from the ERG

The self-styled ‘star chamber’ of Brexiteer lawyers includes former Brexit secretary, Eurosceptic veteran Bill Cash, and DUP Westminster leader Bill Cash. WPA Pool/Getty

A self-styled “star chamber” of eight Brexiteer lawyers – seven of whom are serving MPs – met this morning at around at 10.30 am to rule on the legal assessment of the new assurances on the backstop secured by Theresa May.

It’s bad news for the prime minister: A parliamentary source tells BI that the chamber, acting for the European Research Group of Brexit-supporting Tory MPs, took “about ten minutes” to decide that the concessions May announced yesterday do not allow the UK a unilateral exit from the backstop.

They ruled that any exit from the backstop relies on the arbitration panel, a mechanism Brexiteers don’t trust as it would depend on EU approval.

Another ominous, albeit expected, sign for the prime minister’s deal following Attorney General Geoffrey Cox’s devastating legal advice this morning.

12.35: Geoffrey Cox tells MPs to make ‘political judgement’ to back the deal


Geoffrey Cox is addressing the House of Commons after publishing his legal advice suggesting that the legal risk of Britain being kept in the Brexit backstop against its will remains “unchanged,” but that the risk of that being indefinite have been “reduced”.

He says the concessions

Cox says MPs must make a “political judgement” about whether to back the deal, given the chaos that rejecting it for a second time would trigger.

“This is a question not of the lawfulness of the government’s action, but of its prudence,” he says.

12:30: DUP not impressed


A DUP MP has told the Financial Times that the party which props up May’s government cannot back the deal tonight after reading Geoffrey Cox’s legal advice.

The Huffington Post reports the same thing.

Without the Democratic Unionist Party, it is difficult to see how May gets her deal through this evening.

Business Insider’s Thomas Colson reports that some Conservative MPs believe that a number of Tories have been persuaded to back the deal. However, the ERG is unlikely to back the deal en masse if the DUP cannot be convinced to back it.

Right now, May is heading for a defeat. The question is how big a defeat it will be.

12:10: May tells ministers, ‘let’s get this done’


A Downing Street spokesperson has just revealed what Theresa May told her senior ministers in a meeting of Cabinet this morning. Here’s what happened:

The Prime Minister began by outlining the legally-binding changes to the backstop which were secured last night, and thanking the Brexit Secretary and Attorney General for their hard work.

Cabinet gave its backing to the agreement and stressed the huge importance of the Meaningful Vote passing this evening.

The PM concluded Cabinet by stating that: ‘Today is the day’.

She said that passing the vote would allow the country to move on to a brighter future. The alternative is uncertainty – with no guarantee of what happens next.

The PM ended by saying: ‘Let’s get this done.’

11:50: Is it game over?

British Prime Minister Theresa May. Getty

This morning there was optimism in Downing Street that the revised Brexit deal would be enough to significantly reduce the margin of defeat, or perhaps even get it over the line.

However, Cox’s legal advice seems to have gone down badly with the MPs it was designed to pacify, putting the prime minister at risk of another crushing defeat.

Pro-Leave MPs on the Brexit Committee are making their disappointment clear to Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay, who is currently giving evidence to the committee.

Conservative MP John Whittingdale said Cox’s legal advice on the backstop is “pretty terminal.”

Brexiteer-in-chief Jacob Rees-Mogg said that MPs had been mislead on the backstop, telling Barclay: “This has been advertised as a unilateral ability. It is not unilateral.”

He added: “The ability to ask is not the same as the ability to leave [the backstop.]”

11:30: Cox says legal facts of the backstop are “unchanged”


Ahead of his Commons appearance this afternoon, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has published his legal advice on the revised Brexit deal – and it doesn’t look good for May.

While Cox says that the tweaks to the deal “reduce the risk” of the UK being stuck in the backstop indefinitely against its will, the “legal risk remains unchanged” that this outcome is possible and will take effect until a suitable alternative is produced.

Here is the key paragraph:

“However, the legal risk remains unchanged that if through no such demonstrable failure of either party, but simply because of intractable differences, that situation does arise, the United Kingdom would have, at least while the fundamental circumstances remained the same, no internationally lawful means of exiting the Protocol’s arrangements, save by agreement.”

Remember, May has been under intense pressure from pro-Brexit MPs and the Democratic Unionist Party to give the UK a fixed route out of the backstop arrangement, either through a fixed time-limit or a unilateral exit mechanism. This tweaks fall short of delivering either.

Keir Starmer MP, Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary, said “the Attorney General has confirmed that there have been no significant changes to the Withdrawal Agreement despite the legal documents that were agreed last night.”

He added: “The Government’s strategy is now in tatters.”

Conservative MPs are meeting in Westminster right now to discuss the Cox’s advice…

11:00: MPs await Cox’s crucial legal advice


Good morning!

Welcome to this Business Insider liveblog of another historic day in UK politics.

Members of Parliament will on Tuesday evening vote whether to accept Theresa May’s tweaked Brexit deal with the European Union, or reject the agreement for a second time.

The first big piece of action of the day is set to come at around 12:30, when Attorney General Geoffrey Cox will present his legal interpretation of the Brexit deal to MPs.

Critics of May’s deal who she is trying to win over – pro-Brexit Conservative and the Democratic Unionist Party – say they will decide how to vote this evening once they have heard Cox deliver his statement in the House of Commons. It’s a make-or-break moment for the deal.

It could also be a make-or-break moment for May’s control over the Brexit process.

If her deal is voted down for a second time, MPs will this week have an opportunity to vote for an extension to the Article 50 process, which would delay Brexit and possibly pave the way to a softer Brexit, or even another referendum.

Remain-voting Conservative MP Nick Boles warns his pro-Brexit colleagues that MPs who oppose a “hard” Brexit will move to take control of the process if the deal is rejected tonight.