MPs are set to vote on whether to block a no-deal Brexit after Theresa May suffered a humiliating defeat as her EU Withdrawal Agreement was rejected by an overwhelming majority for the second time.
Conservative MPs will be given a free vote on Wednesday evening on whether they are willing for the UK to leave the EU without a deal at the end of the month.
They will vote on a motion stating “this House declines to approve leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and a framework on the future relationship on March 29”.
If MPs reject no-deal – as most Westminster observers expect – a third vote will follow on Thursday on whether to authorise Mrs May to request an extension of the two-year Article 50 negotiation process.
Members of the Malthouse Compromise group of Tories from both Leave and Remain wings immediately tabled an amendment proposing a “standstill” agreement lasting as late as the end of 2021, during which the UK would observe EU rules and pay into Brussels budgets while a full trade deal is negotiated.
Labour said allowing a free vote on no-deal showed Mrs May had “given up any pretence of leading the country”.
The DUP’s Ian Paisley said he would like to see a no-deal option left on the table, telling BBC Two’s Newsnight: “If you vote to remove this from the Prime Minister’s arsenal essentially she will have to blink again.”
And Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi said it would be “consistent for all of us in Government to leave no-deal on the table”.
Early on Wednesday, the UK will publish further details of its own no-deal plans – including tariff rates for imports.
And the Cabinet is expected to meet in the morning, ahead of the Chancellor’s Spring Statement to the Commons on Wednesday afternoon.
It comes after MPs voted by 391 to 242 against the deal despite the Prime Minister’s assurance new agreements reached with Jean-Claude Juncker in Strasbourg would ensure the UK cannot be trapped in the controversial backstop arrangement indefinitely.
Although the 149 margin was reduced from the record 230-vote defeat of the first “meaningful vote” in January, Mrs May was left far adrift from a majority with just 17 days to go to the scheduled date of Brexit on March 29.
Some 75 Conservative MPs rebelled to vote against the deal, while just three Labour MPs and four independents joined the 235 Tories who backed it.
Battling with a croaky voice, Mrs May said she still believed leaving with a deal was the best option for Britain and “the deal we’ve negotiated is the best and indeed the only deal available”.
She told MPs: “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 and 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. Thanks to the decision that the House has made this evening, they are choices that must now be faced.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said his party would once more put forward its own proposal for a deal and repeated his demand for a general election.
“The Prime Minister has run down the clock and the clock has been run out on her,” Mr Corbyn said.
“Clearly it’s not ideal that we lost the vote tonight, but the prime minister is doing the right thing.”
— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) March 12, 2019
An extension of Article 50 requires the unanimous agreement of all 27 remaining member states and Mr Juncker has warned it cannot stretch beyond May 23 unless the UK takes part in the European Parliament elections starting on that date.
The European Commission president had already said if MPs turned down the package agreed in Strasbourg on Monday there would be “no third chance” to renegotiate.
Following the vote, a spokesman for European Council president Donald Tusk said the EU had done “all that is possible” to reach an agreement and would require “a credible justification” from the UK for any extension.
“It is difficult to see what more we can do,” he said.