British lawmakers have rejected Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal with the European Union by a wide margin.
British parliament members on Tuesday evening voted against the deal by 432 to 202 in the House of Commons, dealing a severe blow to May and her cabinet after months of negotiation over the UK’s divorce deal from the bloc.
During the final session of debate over the issue, May argued that the deal was “crucial for generations to come,” and that other options would only cause a further division among the British public.
"It is clear that the house does not support this deal, but tonight's vote tells us nothing about what it does support," May said in the House immediately after the vote, adding that a confidence motion would be voted on the following day.
Responding to the resounding defeat, the British premier promised that her government "respects the will of the House" but said it was her "duty to deliver" Brexit for British citizens who voted to leave the EU in 2016.
May's crushing loss marked the collapse of her two-year plan of forging an orderly divorce with close ties to the EU after the March 29 exit. The defeat of the departure agreement can lead to a disorderly exit from the EU or even to a reversal of the 2016 referendum.
Corbyn tables no confidence vote in May's government
Britain's opposition Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn denounced May's cabinet as "incompetent" after the vote and called for a vote of no confidence in her government.
“This is a catastrophic defeat. The house has delivered its verdict on her deal. Delay and denial has reached the end of the line,” Corbyn said.
"No deal must be taken off the table, a permanent customs union must be secured, and people's rights and protections must be guaranteed … She cannot seriously believe that after two years of failure, she is capable of negotiating a good deal for this country," he added.
May had earlier criticized Corbyn, accusing him of being "long on criticism and short on coherence."
The Tuesday vote was originally scheduled to be held in mid-December but was postponed by May amid fears that MPs would reject the deal with Brussels.
The deal's opponents have for long argued that the so-called “backstop” clause undermines the UK’s sovereignty, saying it effectively separates Northern Ireland from the mainland Britain.
The EU insists it should be able to include Northern Ireland in its customs union and move the border to the Irish Sea until a mechanism is found for bilateral trade.
A spokesperson for the Irish government, which has been at the forefront of talks due to the Irish border issue, said Dublin “regrets the outcome of the vote in Westminster,” and that the vote would “add to uncertainty about the nature of the UK withdrawal from the EU.”
The spokesperson recalled the EU position that the “withdrawal agreement is not open for renegotiation,” and said the Irish government would “intensify preparations for such an outcome.”
Former foreign secretary and leading Brexiteer Boris Johnson said it was a "bigger defeat than people have been expecting,” and it meant that the Brexit deal was now "dead.”
Johnson, however, said he would give the British prime minister a "massive mandate to go back to Brussels" to negotiate a better deal without the controversial Northern Ireland backstop and that he would back May in Wednesday's confidence vote.
‘A defeat of historic proportions’
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said May had suffered "a defeat of historic proportions," and reiterated her call for the Article 50 "clock to be stopped" in order for a second Brexit referendum to take place.
"We have reached the point now where it would be unconscionable to kick the can any further down the road," she said.
EU reacts to Tuesday vote
EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier told reporters in Strasbourg, “Now it is time for the UK to tell us the next steps. On our side we will remain united and determined to reach an agreement.”
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the risk of a disorderly Brexit have increased after the deal was overwhelmingly voted down on Tuesday.
Juncker said the European Commission had “invested enormous time and effort to negotiate the withdrawal agreement,” adding that the bloc had shown “creativity and flexibility throughout” the process.
“The risk of a disorderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom has increased with this evening’s vote,” he said in a statement. “While we do not want this to happen, the European Commission will continue its contingency work to help ensure the EU is fully prepared.”
Juncker also said the agreement was "the only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal," and that he and President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, were waiting for additional clarifications from the MPs over the future of the deal.
"I urge the United Kingdom to clarify its intentions as soon as possible," Juncker concluded. "Time is almost up."
Tusk, for his part, said he regretted the outcome of the Tuesday vote and later asked in a tweet that, "who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?"
If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) January 15, 2019
Other EU leaders also expressed their views following the defeat, with most warning that the UK would have to clarify what it wanted from Brexit.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who said he had spoken to Barnier after the vote, said the union would work hard to avoid a "hard Brexit.”
“I regret the outcome Brexit of the vote. After the vote, the ball is now with the House of Commons in London. In any case, there will be no renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement,” Kurz added.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte expressed regret over the Tuesday vote and said, “The Netherlands and EU are still behind the agreement, but will keep preparing for all scenarios. Despite this setback, it does not mean we are in a no-deal situation. The next step is up to the UK.”
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron said Britain would be “the biggest loser” if it left the EU without a deal and Germany described the defeat of May’s deal as a bitter day for Europe.