Theresa May suffers major Commons defeat as MPs begin Brexit debate

The debate on Theresa May's Brexit deal began with a defeat for the Prime Minister (Reuters)
The debate on Theresa May’s Brexit deal began with a defeat for the Prime Minister (Reuters)

Theresa May has suffered another significant defeat in the House of Commons that will force her to reveal her ‘Brexit Plan B’ within days if MPs vote against her deal.

308 MPs voted for – compared to 297 MPs who voted against – an amendment made by Remainer Tory MP Dominic Grieve, requiring the Government to set out its alternative suggestion no more than three days after a defeat in the ‘meaningful vote’.

Crucially, MPs will be able to make and vote on amendments to this Brexit Plan B, opening the door for a second referendum to be put to the Commons.

The EU Withdrawal Act states that the Government must a statement of intent within 21 days of a defeat, meaning Mr Grieve’s victory has sped up the timetable and hacked into the time available to Mrs May to secure concessions from Brussels before MPs vote again.

The blow to the Prime Minister came less than a day after Conservative rebels defied the orders of their party to push through an amendment designed to frustrate a no-deal Brexit.

Today’s vote followed a furious exchange in Parliament sparked by speaker John Bercow’s decision to allow MPs to vote on Mr Grieve’s amendment.

Dominic Grieve’s amendment was passed with support from Conservative rebels. (photo by Vickie Flores/In Pictures via Getty Images)
Dominic Grieve’s amendment was passed with support from Conservative rebels. (photo by Vickie Flores/In Pictures via Getty Images)

Brexiteer Conservatives questioned whether Mr Bercow’s decision should have been allowed under Parliamentary rules.

Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom noted there were “some concerns” about Mr Bercow’s decision and asked him to confirm that he acted with “full advice” from the Commons clerk and other parliamentary advisers.

Mr Bercow confirmed he consulted the clerk and officials, saying the advice was given to him “privately and that’s absolutely proper”.

The exchange marked the beginning of five days of debate on the PM’s Brexit deal before MPs cast their ballots in a ‘meaningful vote’.

Mrs May is expected to be defeated after failing to persuade the EU to make any changes, including to the controversial Irish backstop.