Opinion | Hold a Second Brexit Referendum

A democracy that cannot change its mind is not a democracy. The people may do that when presented with the whole picture after seeing only a partial or distorted one.

It has taken more than 30 months to shift from “Fantasy Brexit” to “Reality Brexit.” The difference, after vitriolic debate that has consumed British politics virtually to the exclusion of all else, is stark.

The first was Britain’s 2016 vote, fueled by lies, to leave the European Union, trumpets blaring. The second, after a crash course in the facts of what membership brings for Britain, came Tuesday in the form of the crushing defeat by a 432-to-202 parliamentary vote of Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan for British withdrawal on March 29.

This, of course, was not a vote to remain in the European Union after all. It reflected anger across ideological lines that united Conservative lawmakers who want a complete British break from Europe and representatives of other parties who want to remain in the 28-nation union. Above all, it reflected complete disarray, the incapacity of May or anyone to come up with an acceptable compromise deal to accomplish something so inherently undesirable as to defy prettification.

The vote, the most overwhelming defeat for a prime minister in recent British history, makes it more likely that the March 29 deadline will not be met. It also makes it more likely, if not yet probable, that a second referendum will be held.

As Timothy Garton Ash, the British historian and author, tweeted from Parliament: “This increases chances of #peoplesvote and Britain remaining where it belongs … in Europe.”

Resistance to a second vote is ferocious. We are told it would split Britain in two for generations, leave blood on the streets, render the expression of the people’s will meaningless, and even destroy British democracy.

But Britain is split one way or another and not about to heal. It voted in 2016 on make-believe shamelessly peddled by the likes of the former foreign secretary Boris Johnson. At stake is the country’s direction for decades to come. It’s worth voting on the facts, not some post-truth phantasmagoria, of a British exit. The unicorn of little English dreams turned out to be nonexistent. Recent polls suggest that British citizens now favor a second vote and that, if held, the decision to leave would likely be overturned.

Other union countries, including Denmark and Ireland, have voted twice on European Union treaties and reversed the initial outcome. They are still thriving democracies, as far as anyone can tell. People change their minds and survive.

The road from here to a second vote is no straight line but its trajectory is at least discernible.

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, has tabled a vote of no confidence in May’s government. If passed, this would almost certainly trigger a general election, but the Conservative majority is likely to rally around May to prevent that. Then, later this week, the parliamentary maneuvering will begin under a 10-week deadline to March 29.

The backdrop to the maneuvering is this. The European Union has said the only deal is the one May tabled. That deal was a fudge in extremis leaving Britain inside the European single market until a new trade relationship is worked out; it reflected May’s recognition that a no-deal Brexit would be an economic disaster. This compromise, in turn, infuriated many in her Conservative Party. Two Brexit secretaries quit last year over the agreement negotiations.

The bill for the divorce, which Britain agreed to under May’s rejected plan, would be about $50 billion, or about eight of Donald Trump’s walls.

Corbyn’s Labour Party, but not Corbyn himself, favors staying in the European Union; presumably Corbyn will eventually come around, in the absence of any viable alternative.

Britain is a parliamentary democracy. As Hugo Dixon, the deputy chair of the People’s Vote, a grass-roots movement for a second referendum, wrote in the French daily Le Monde: “Parliament will need to pass a new law to authorize this referendum. It can do this either the easy way, with prime minister’s support; or the hard way, by forcing it through against her wishes.”

Dixon told me that a “Remain” campaign in a second referendum would need to focus on the real issues that caused the Brexit vote: immigration, the areas of Britain starved of investment and left behind, a deficient National Health Service. None of these problematic issues were caused by the European Union. “In fact,” he said, “they are best addressed in Europe, with an economy given a boost by a decision to remain and a political agenda no longer consumed by Brexit.”

There are no good solutions to the current impasse but a second referendum is the least bad. All the debate has come up against a stubborn fact: Brexit is damaging to the British national interest. No deal can make it look good. May tried and failed. The British, and particularly British youth, deserve the right to determine their long-term future on the basis of reality.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

Roger Cohen has been a columnist for The Times since 2009. His columns appear Wednesday and Saturday. He joined The Times in 1990, and has served as a foreign correspondent and foreign editor. @NYTimesCohen

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Theresa May’s Brexit Deal Failed. Here’s What You Need to Know.

The British Parliament’s long-anticipated vote on a plan to withdraw from the European Union — also known as Brexit — came to its expected conclusion on Tuesday night when lawmakers weighed in on a deal proposed by Prime Minister Theresa May.

No one really thought that at the last minute Mrs. May would be able to pull a rabbit out of her hat to secure approval for the plan. And she didn’t, with her Brexit deal rejected by a vote of 432 to 202. Now she has to go hat in hand to Brussels to see if she can work some magic there.

Spoiler alert: She almost certainly cannot.

Here’s what to know as Britain enters uncharted territory of the process that is Brexit.

The opposition has called a vote of no confidence.

On Tuesday night, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, called for a vote of no confidence in Mrs. May’s government, denouncing what he called its “sheer incompetence.”

If a majority of Parliament votes on Wednesday that they have no confidence in the government, Mrs. May would have 14 days to win back the support of lawmakers. Without that, an early general election would be triggered. (The no-confidence vote on Mrs. May’s government differs from a vote she faced in December, when members of her own Conservative Party tried to unseat her as party leader. She survived that vote, 200 to 117.)

If the no-confidence measure passes, the opposition could take power. But Mr. Corbyn is unlikely to have enough votes for the measure to pass, a reality that Labour politicians have themselves admitted.

Barry Gardiner, a Labour member of Parliament, told the BBC that while the numbers are “probably not there” to win the vote of no confidence, “it’s not about a one-off thing.” Mr. Gardiner said the vote was intended to raise the question of whether Mrs. May should resign.

European Union leaders reaffirmed: This is the only deal on the table.

Following Tuesday’s vote, European Commission leaders issued this stern response: “We regret the outcome of the vote, and urge the U.K. government to clarify its intentions with respect to its next steps as soon as possible.”

While Mrs. May could theoretically go back to the European Union and try come up with a new deal that she would then have to pass through Parliament, the bloc has remained firm that this is the only deal it will offer.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, said in a statement that he also noted “with regret” the outcome of the vote.

He maintained that the current Brexit agreement is “a fair compromise and the best possible deal” and “the only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.”

The negotiations between Europe and Britain formally began in June 2017 and lasted for nearly a year and a half. The European Commission has begun putting a contingency plan in place, in case the bloc is unable to come to an agreement with Britain, to minimize what could be a chaotic and damaging divorce.

In his statement, Mr. Juncker alluded to the withdrawal deadline — 10 weeks away — and warned Britain, “Time is almost up.”

Theresa May has until Monday to present a new deal.

Mrs. May now has until Monday to present a backup plan to Parliament. But she is running out of time to come up with a deal that would be supported by a deeply divided Parliament: a faction of her own Conservative Party has advocated a “hard Brexit,” the opposition wants closer economic ties with Europe, and parties are split about terms regarding the Irish border. Many in her own party abandoned the prime minister during Tuesday’s vote.

Mrs. May has indicated that she will appeal to the European Union in Brussels for concessions and try again to win parliamentary approval, but the bloc is unlikely to renegotiate without a clear path forward. That could mean either withdrawal without a deal, a scenario most lawmakers want to avoid, or a much “softer” Brexit — one with closer ties to the European Union.

Mrs. May could also call a second referendum, an option favored by some opposition politicians who hope that voters have changed their minds. But she has so far opposed this option.

Instead, Mrs. May has been vocal about her commitment to finding a workable deal and warned earlier this week that a failure to withdraw from the bloc would risk “a subversion of the democratic process,” and do “catastrophic harm” to Britons’ faith in their political system.

What happens next is anyone’s guess.

There are many possible paths for what comes next — you can see a visual breakdown here. Factions of Britain’s government are offering their own versions of a way forward, though none seem to agree on the course.

Britain is still set to leave the European Union on March 29, with or without a deal. Neither Mrs. May’s government nor the European Union wants a “no-deal” Brexit to happen, and analysts say that without an agreement in place, the divorce would be chaotic and economically damaging.

The prime minister could be forced to ask Parliament to postpone the country’s departure from the bloc. Under the European Union treaty, suspension of the two-year negotiating period needs the approval of all 27 member states for Brexit’s date to be pushed back. The member states might agree to this if Britain were to hold another election or referendum, but are less likely to agree if the government simply wants more time to negotiate concessions from Europe.

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Labour MPs set to pile fresh pressure on Corbyn to back second Brexit referendum

A large group of Labour MPs are set to come out in favour of a second referendum on Wednesday morning.

Tonight many were in discussions with colleagues and their local parties before making a final decision.

They will make an announcement at 10am on Wednesday morning.  

It will put pressure on the Labour leadership to support another vote in line with the vast majority of their membership.

Some reports suggested 100 Labour MPs were involved. However, sources said many of these were already known backers of a second referendum.

The MPs have chosen their moment to act because Theresa May’s government is expected to survive a no confidence vote brought by Mr Corbyn tomorrow night.

Labour have left a second referendum as one of several "options on the table", which will become available with equal preference if an election can’t be achieved, a spokesman for the Labour leader said.

That is in accordance with a motion that was agreed at the party conference in September.

But if tomorrow night’s vote fails, Remain-backing MPs claim their leader, who has said a second referendum was not his priority, should pivot to back one.

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Latest Brexit news

  • Brexit vote is biggest defeat in history
  • No confidence vote to be held Wednesday
  • Search to see how your MP voted
  • Guide to what happens now
  • Live fallout and reaction
  • Full list of record 118 Tory rebels
  • Summary of the deal and sticking points
  • What will No Deal really mean?

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'We are staring down the barrel': Reactions to PM Theresa May's Brexit deal defeat

LONDON (REUTERS) – European Union leaders said they would step up preparations for a no-deal Brexit and British business groups reacted with alarm after British lawmakers defeated Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit divorce deal by a crushing margin on Tuesday (Jan 15).

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY

“It is clear that the House does not support this deal. But tonight”s vote tells us nothing about what it does support. Nothing about how – or even if – it intends to honour the decision the British people took in a referendum Parliament decided to hold.”

EU COMMISSION PRESIDENT JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER

“The risk of a disorderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom has increased with this evening’s vote.”

OPPOSITION LABOUR LEADER JEREMY CORBYN

“This is a catastrophic defeat for this government. After two years of failed negotiations, the House of Commons has delivered its verdict on her Brexit deal and that verdict is absolutely decisive.”

PRESIDENT OF THE EUROPEAN COUNCIL DONALD TUSK

“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?”

BELGIAN PRIME MINISTER CHARLES MICHEL

“While we do not want this to happen, the European Commission will continue its contingency work to help ensure the EU is fully prepared.”

GERMAN FINANCE MINISTER AND VICE CHANCELLOR OLAF SCHOLZ

“This is a bitter day for Europe. We are well prepared – but a hard Brexit would be the least attractive choice, for the EU and GB (Great Britain),”

CONFEDERATION OF BRITISH INDUSTRY

“Every business will feel no deal is hurtling closer. A new plan is needed immediately. This is now a time for our politicians to make history as leaders.”

GERMAN AUTO INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION VDA

“With today’s decision the majority of parliament has done its country a disservice. Now an uncontrolled Brexit is more likely. The consequences of a ‘no deal’ would be fatal.”

UK AUTO INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION SMMT

“Leaving the EU, our biggest and most important trading partner, without a deal and without a transition period to cushion the blow would put this sector and jobs at immediate risk.”

UK MANUFACTURING ASSOCIATION EEF

“Parliament’s pantomime now continues while business suffers impossible uncertainty which will only worsen investment and the worrying business climate.”

INSTITUTE OF DIRECTORS

“It is the collective failure of our political leaders that, with only a few weeks to go, we are staring down the barrel of no deal.

“As things stand, UK law says we will leave on 29th March, with or without a withdrawal agreement, and yet MPs are behaving as though they have all the time in the world – how are businesses meant to prepare in this fog of confusion?”

BRITISH CHAMBERS OF COMMERCE

“There are no more words to describe the frustration, impatience, and growing anger amongst business after two and a half years on a high-stakes political rollercoaster ride that shows no sign of stopping.”

MARKET REACTION

Sterling rebounded smartly from the day’s lows and rallied more than a cent to stand above US$1.28 after British lawmakers defeated Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit divorce deal by a crushing margin on Tuesday.

UBS WEALTH MANAGEMENT

“UK assets will continue to be vulnerable to the political volatility and we don’t expect this will subside until a concrete conclusion emerges.

“We do not advocate investors take directional views on sterling, gilts or UK stocks while this clarity void remains so large. Within existing portfolios, investors would be wise to limit any UK exposure at benchmark levels.”

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Amid Parliament’s Brexit Rebellion, a Tectonic Shift in How Britain Is Governed

LONDON — The annals of British politics are filled with stories about the government’s iron-fisted, sometimes terrifying control of parliamentary affairs.

One former Labour cabinet secretary, Jack Straw, recalled his first encounter as a young member of Parliament with his party’s enforcer, who stopped him in a corridor and grabbed him between the legs. When he asked the deputy chief whip what he had done wrong, the answer was nothing.

Then the whip added, “But think what I’d do if you crossed me.”

The many tales of British lawmakers once being kept ruthlessly in line stand in stark contrast to the events of the last week, as Prime Minister Theresa May and her lieutenants tried ineffectually to get her party members to support the government’s plan on withdrawing from the European Union, known as Brexit.

Her ally Michael Gove, the environment minister, tried on Tuesday morning to scare some wayward lawmakers straight, using the foreboding terminology from “Game of Thrones” to warn them that “if we don’t vote for this deal tonight, in the words of Jon Snow, winter is coming.”

But that tactic didn’t work, either, and Mrs. May was abandoned by much of her own party on Tuesday night, in a vote that defeated her flagship Brexit deal by a margin of 230 votes, the largest in recent British history.

The Brexit fiasco seems to be forcing a tectonic shift in how Britain is governed, as Parliament flexes its muscles and the prime minister struggles to force through her agenda — a dynamic more characteristic of America’s gridlock-prone system.

The parliamentary rebellion is embodied by John Bercow, the hyperarticulate, pugnacious speaker of the House of Commons, a nonpartisan position.

The son of a used-car salesman from North London, Mr. Bercow entered Parliament in 1997, and with his working-class background, he stood out among the elite Etonians of the Conservative Party.

A longtime advocate on behalf of backbenchers, Mr. Bercow last week scandalized traditionalists by allowing one of these junior lawmakers to put forward for vote an amendment — which passed — that required Mrs. May to come up with a Plan B for Brexit within three working parliamentary days of Tuesday’s vote.

Such permission had not been granted in decades, and many British newspapers were indignant, describing Mr. Bercow the next day as a “sweaty, self-important gnome” and an “egotistical preening popinjay.”

But Mr. Bercow seemed to savor his decision, declaring on Monday, “I will not be pushed around by agents of the executive branch.”

“They can be as rude as they like, they can be as intimidating as they like,” he added. “Unlike some people in important positions, I have been elected, re-elected, re-elected and re-elected as speaker to do the right thing by the House of Commons. That’s what I have done, that’s what I am doing and that’s what I will go on doing.”

On Tuesday night, the lawmakers’ rebellion culminated with Mrs. May’s outsized and far-reaching defeat.

Politics students in Britain are taught the phrase “elective dictatorship,” coined by a former lord chancellor, to describe the executive arm’s dominance over Parliament; that term may have to be retired.

“Constitutional scholars are going to be dining out on this for years,” said Rob Ford, a professor of politics at the University of Manchester. “There are going to be whole Ph.D.s written on January 2019.”

Behind this change lie political shifts that have made it harder for British governments to secure convincing majorities in Parliament, with inconclusive elections and minority governments starting to become the norm.

When Mrs. May called an election in 2017, expecting to win by a big margin, she instead lost the majority she had inherited, leaving her weakened ahead of the generational legislative challenge of negotiating Brexit.

Brexit cuts across traditional voting loyalties, with people switching their allegiances more frequently, which has posed another test for politicians.

“You’ve got a breakdown of the way traditional political parties have worked,” said Bronwen Maddox, the director of the Institute of Government, a London-based policy group. “M.P.s are supposed to follow what their party leader says. Now, they are pulled by the way their constituents will have voted, and by their own beliefs.”

Meanwhile, the mystique around the party whips has dissipated, with no more recent stories like the bodily assault recounted by Mr. Straw, who went on to become Prime Minister Tony Blair’s foreign secretary.

“They were thought to use all kinds of dark arts, threatening to blight an M.P.’s political career, but now their tactics have started to look like they’re calling M.P.s in and saying, ‘please,’” Ms. Maddox said. “On an issue like this, when M.P.s are really feeling emboldened to vote their conscience, the party system really isn’t working.”

The shift worries conservatives like Tim Stanley, a historian and journalist, who says Britain’s system presumes that policies promised in party manifestos will be carried out by the executive. That system confines Parliament’s role to scrutinizing the executive.

Increasing the role of parliamentary backbenchers in shaping policy, Mr. Stanley said, would allow small factions to subvert executive authority, not just on Brexit but on matters like health care and taxation, rendering the British government “effectively rudderless.”

“We have far fewer checks and balances than people realize,” said Mr. Stanley, who writes for The Telegraph newspaper. “It may sound dictatorial, but that’s why our democracy has lasted. That’s the democratic consensus, as it has functioned. That’s why we haven’t had lots of civil wars.”

Mrs. May, in any case, is not likely to forget the lawmakers who sped the way toward her epic loss on Tuesday. After the votes were tallied, they were announced out by her foghorn-voiced adversary, Mr. Bercow.

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Brexit vote: Remain and Leave's reaction shows enormity of PM's failure

A defeat of 230 votes. It is the most severe defeat for a sitting prime minister since universal suffrage.

In normal times, a prime minister losing a vote of such importance would surely resign.

The last time a sitting PM was defeated on a scale such as this was Ramsay MacDonald in 1924. That brought down his government.

:: LIVE: PM’s Brexit deal defeated as Corbyn tables no confidence motion

Theresa May’s indefatigability, however, remains apparently undimmed. She gave no sense that she intends to go anywhere. Within the chamber, her own benches, having just destroyed the only objective of her premiership, nonetheless rallied around her. A paltry consolation prize.

Nor did she give any indication that she would bring the deal back, as some had predicted. Given the massive scale of the defeat, that now seems remote.

Instead, she essentially invited the Opposition to table a motion of no confidence against her own government. Mr Corbyn duly obliged.

:: How your MP voted on Theresa May’s Brexit deal

That is what will happen next – on Wednesday. The fact that the PM invited it confirms, however, that she is confident she will win it. The DUP will not desert her yet. The danger for Labour is that Mrs May will use a confidence vote to reestablish the authority of her government and her premiership.

In doing so she will have restored the status quo ante, except with even less certainty given that the one group with a definite Brexit plan (the government) will be denuded of it. And there will be even less time remaining.

This government’s authority, already enfeebled, is now completely shattered. Neither it, nor anyone else, has a clear plan on how to proceed.

The one thing with Brexit on which you can rely, however, is that the can, wherever possible, is kicked down the road. The only way of doing that now, of deferring difficult decisions for longer, is to extend the Article 50 process. There would probably be a majority for that, if the Commons can make it happen. My guess is that it will.

:: New record for biggest defeat ever suffered by a government

In a peculiar twist, both groups of protesters outside parliament, for Remain and Leave, cheered loudly on hearing May’s deal had failed. That represents the enormity of her failure.

That she thought she could split the difference on an issue of political theology was folly. Perhaps she should always have chosen a side. But their cheers also represent the grave risk of two groups, with opposite objectives who both think they’ve won.

In opposing the PM’s deal, both Remainers and Leavers have rejected a settlement which would at least have given them something – be it a softer Brexit, or a guaranteed Brexit of some sort. They’ve both gambled in rejecting it. They’ve bet the house. Only one side can be right. And one faction might, in the end, have cause to regret the turn of the events of this historic night.

We have just over 70 days until Brexit day. There is no majority for anything. No plan B from the government. An opposition strong enough to wound but not to kill. A morass of different backbench groups all with their own competing versions of what should and what will happen next.

The truth is that none of the great institutions of British politics has the faintest idea.

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Search to see how your MP voted on the Brexit deal

MPs have inflicted a the worst defeat since at least the Second World War on Theresa May’s Brexit deal – throwing Britain into crisis.

An astonishing 118 Tories rebelled against their Prime Minister to vote down the 585-page agreement with the EU.

Theresa May must now come up with a Plan B within days while Labour prepares a no confidence vote.

So how did your MP vote in a session that will be in the next generation’s history textbooks?

Downing Street’s efforts to pick off the huge number of Tory rebels came to little – and Labour, the SNP and Lib Dems voted against.

Here are the full results, including our searchable widget.

How did your MP vote on Brexit?

How did Tory MPs vote on the Brexit deal?

How did Labour MPs vote on the Brexit deal?

How did SNP MPs vote on the Brexit deal?

How did Lib Dem MPs vote on the Brexit deal?

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  • What happens if PM loses
  • Summary of the deal and sticking points
  • What will No Deal really mean?
  • What is the Northern Ireland backstop?
  • Voice of the Mirror

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British parliament expected to vote down Theresa May’s Brexit deal

British lawmakers were preparing to deliver their verdict on Prime Minister Theresa May’s divorce deal with the European Union on Tuesday after more than two years of political upheaval.

All signs point to it receiving a resounding thumbs-down from Parliament, a development that would throw British politics further into turmoil, just 10 weeks before Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29.

Despite a last-ditch plea from May for legislators to give the deal “a second look,” it faces deep opposition, primarily because of measures designed to prevent the reintroduction of border controls between the U.K.’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

Pro-Brexit lawmakers say the deal will leave Britain bound indefinitely to EU rules, while pro-EU politicians favor an even closer economic relationship with the bloc.

That leaves the agreement facing likely defeat on a day that could bring a very British mix of high drama, low insults and convoluted parliamentary procedure.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove urged colleagues not to let their visions of a perfect Brexit get in the way of what he said was a good deal.

“The real danger is if people do not vote for the government this evening, we face either a no-deal Brexit, with the short-term economic damage that would bring, or worse: no Brexit at all,” Gove told the BBC.

Lawmakers are scheduled to vote Tuesday evening, after the last of five days of debate on the deal struck between May’s government and the EU in November. May postponed a vote on the deal in December to avoid a resounding defeat, and there are few signs sentiment has changed significantly since then.

Reassurances from EU leaders that the Irish border “backstop” is intended as a temporary measure of last resort have failed to win over many skeptics. And the EU is adamant that it will not renegotiate the 585-page withdrawal agreement.

In a sign of the widespread opposition, Parliament’s unelected upper chamber, the House of Lords, voted by 321 to 152 late Monday in favor of a motion saying May’s deal would damage Britain’s economic prosperity, internal security and global influence, while also rejecting the idea of leaving the EU without a deal.

The Lords’ vote has no direct effect on the fate of May’s deal.

May says rejecting the agreement would lead either to a reversal of Brexit — overturning voters’ decision in a 2016 referendum — or to Britain leaving the bloc without a deal, a course she said would damage the country’s economy, security and unity.

Former education minister Nicky Morgan, who said she planned to vote for May’s agreement, warned that the U.K. wasn’t ready for the economic upheaval of a no-deal Brexit.

“There are millions of people in this country watching Westminster and Parliament very anxiously today,” she told the BBC.

If Parliament votes down the deal, May has until the following Monday to come up with a new proposal. So far, May has refused publicly to speculate on a possible “Plan B.”

The main opposition Labour Party says it will call a no-confidence vote in the government if the deal is defeated in an attempt to trigger a general election.

The party has not disclosed the timing of such a motion, which could come as soon as Tuesday night. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told colleagues on Monday that a no-confidence vote was “coming soon.”

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Another defeat for Theresa May as Lords back blocking No Deal Brexit

The House of Lords has dealt a crushing defeat to Theresa May’s Brexit deal just 24 hours before the crunch vote in the Commons.

Peers voted 321-152 (majority 169) for a Labour motion expressing “regret” over the deal – and urging MPs to “emphatically reject” a no-deal Brexit after a three-day debate.

Unlike tonight’s vote in the Commons, last night’s showdown has no legal force – but it shows the huge weight of feeling.

Winding up the debate for the Government, Lord Keen of Elie urged MPs to back Mrs May’s deal, warning the alternatives were worse and Parliament must respect the result of the referendum.

Lord Keen said a second referendum would be seen by some as a “constitutional outrage”, and insisted the 2016 referendum was a “people’s vote”.

But Labour’s Baroness Hayter said the Prime Minister had wasted two years negotiating with her own party and put “blinkered Brexiteers” in charge, who rejected all evidence at variance with their "ideological obsession".

Labour’s alternative was a customs union, she insisted.

Liberal Democrat Baroness Ludford said the country had been "held to ransom" by squabbling in the Conservative party and hoped that in a people’s vote the British people would choose to remain in the EU.

"Nothing can be as good as EU membership," she told a packed chamber after more than 130 peers had taken part in the debate.

The deal was branded a "terrible shambles" by former chairman of the Conservative Party Lord Patten of Barnes.

Lord Patten warned that arguments over the EU were set to "pollute British politics" for a long time to come, even if the deal was agreed to in tomorrow’s crunch Commons vote.

He also warned of "collateral damage" to both the Tories and the country over Brexit and urged MPs to limit the damage in a way that did not make Britain poorer or less influential in the world.

The Opposition motion warned the deal would damage the UK’s economic prosperity, internal security and global influence.

MPs are due to vote on the Withdrawal Agreement Mrs May hammered out with the EU this evening – with the Prime Minister facing a humiliating and crushing defeat.

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  • Voice of the Mirror

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Brexit deal vote day: May facing huge defeat and vote of no confidence in the government

Senior MPs are predicting a defeat for the prime minister of between 100 and 200 votes, which is likely to be followed by Jeremy Corbyn calling a vote of no confidence in the government.

Mrs May’s allies insist that whatever the scale of the defeat she has no intention of quitting or calling a general election, but she will come under enormous pressure to unveil a Brexit Plan B.

On the eve of the historic vote, the prime minister appealed to MPs during a Commons statement to take a “second look” at her agreement, despite admitting it was not perfect and was a compromise.

Then, in an emotional speech to Conservative MPs that was described by her supporters as a “bravura performance”, she urged them to “keep Jeremy Corbyn as far away from No. 10 as possible”.

Winding up day four of the five-day Commons debate on the withdrawal agreement in the early hours of the morning, the chancellor Philip Hammond told MPs: “We as a House now need to move swiftly and decisively to get behind the deal.

“To make the tough choices that are needed to simultaneously deliver the Brexit people voted for, to protect our
economy and our national security and to give them the brighter future they were promised.”

The PM’s final appeal to MPs to back her deal will come amid what is certain to be an atmosphere of tension and high drama, as she winds up the final day of the debate before voting begins at 7pm.

But there is likely to be a series of votes on amendments including demands to rule out a no-deal Brexit and time-limit the Irish backstop, which could mean Mrs May loses by a much smaller margin.

One option – thought to be favoured by government whips – is an amendment proposed by Hilary Benn, who chairs the Brexit select committee of MPs, which kills both the PM’s deal and a no-deal Brexit.

Crucially, that would mean there would not be a final vote on the government’s EU Withdrawal Bill and the prime minister’s deal, potentially sparing her the humiliation of a crushing defeat.

The prime minister is expected to make a Commons statement immediately after the vote and is likely to pledge to go back to Brussels to try to win legally-binding guarantees on the Irish backstop.

But opposition leaders, with the support of Tory Remainers including Kenneth Clarke, are likely to call on her to delay the UK’s divorce from the EU by asking for an extension of the Article 50 process.

Before the debate gets underway, the prime minister will chair a meeting of her cabinet, with ministers said to be split over the government’s Plan B in the event of a defeat in the Commons.

It is reported that Eurosceptic ministers will warn Mrs May that if she moves towards a softer Brexit she will face a revolt, while pro-EU ministers are likely to urge her to back a customs union.

The prime minister is said to be hoping to force a second Commons vote if she is defeated, pinning her hopes new concessions from the German chancellor Angela Merkel, to whom she spoke on Sunday.

But in the final hours before the vote, the PM and senior ministers will hold dozens of meetings with wavering MPs, one-on-one and in groups, in a last-ditch attempt to reduce the scale of the government defeat.

Ministers are also likely to appeal again to pro-Brexit Labour MPs to back the deal, a move condemned by Mr Corbyn at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party as an attempt to blackmail the party’s MPs.

But despite all the appeals, the PM’s attempts to shore up her deal appear doomed and an alliance of Tory Brexiteers, the Democratic Unionist Party and Opposition MPs looks set to inflict a damaging defeat.

:: Follow and watch the Brexit vote live with a special programme on Sky News from 6-10pm on Tuesday evening.

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