The Brexit deal painstakingly negotiated by British prime minister Theresa May over the past two years was rejected overwhelmingly by Parliament on Tuesday.
The deal, which fell in a 432–202 vote in the House of Commons, represented the only established path forward to prevent a so-called “no-deal” British exit from the European Union, which is set to take place in March and would likely result in massive political and economic upheaval.
In response to the historic defeat, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tabled a vote of no confidence, which, if passed, would oust May and give Corbyn a chance to form a new government. If Corbyn’s bid to become prime minister then failed to gain the support of a majority of MPs within 14 days, Parliament would dissolve and a new general election would be held.
May, in advocating on behalf of the deal she has negotiated over the past two years, cast it as the only viable option that accorded with the will of the British people, who voted in June 2016 to leave the European Union.
“This is the most significant vote that any of us will ever be part of in our political careers,” May said as the five-day Commons debate concluded. “The time has now come for all of is in this House to make a decision . . . a decision that each of us will have to justify and live with for many years to come.”
May has struggled in recent months to overcome opposition from pro-Brexit lawmakers, who have cast her deal as a betrayal of the voters’ will that would leave Britain beholden to key E.U. trade regulations, and from the pro-Remain opposition, which has pushed for a second referendum to be administered now that voters have a greater understanding of the negative economic implications of Brexit.
The so-called Northern Ireland “backstop,” which offered assurances that the border between British Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would remain open, emerged in the weeks leading up to the vote as the central sticking point for May’s Tory opponents. Under May’s deal, the U.K. would have to secure the permission of the E.U. before taking steps to harden the border.
Arlene Foster, who leads Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, told the Associated Press that her party opposed May’s deal because of the backstop.
“We want the PM to go back to the EU and say ‘the backstop must go,’” Foster said.
May had originally planned to hold a vote on the deal in December, but postponed that vote in hopes of securing greater support, which never materialized, over the holiday break.