Brexit vote: MPs begin voting on Theresa May’s Brexit plan as PM face historic defeat
VOTING has begun in the House of Commons on Theresa May’s Brexit plan as the prime minister made a last-ditch attempt to persuade MPs to back her.
The procedure, which will see MPs voting on whether they back the PM’s Brexit deal or not, began at 7pm.
It is expected to take several hours for all the votes to be received and counted, with early estimates suggesting a result time of 10pm.
The historic vote comes amid a flurry of speculation about the future of Britain’s divorce arrangement with the European Union – and the future of Mrs May.
Mrs May made a last-ditch plea to MPs to back her EU withdrawal plan, telling them: ‘I believe we have a duty to deliver on the democratic decision of the British people, and to do so in a way that brings our country together.’
The PM looks set for humiliating defeat in the ‘meaningful vote’ taking place in the House of Commons at the end of eight days of debate and two years of negotiation following the EU referendum of June 2016.
Rejection of Mrs May's Withdrawal Agreement by MPs would give her until January 21 to set out her Plan B - expected to involve going back to Brussels to seek further concessions.
And it is also likely to trigger a bid to force a general election by Jeremy Corbyn, who has said he will table a motion of no-confidence in the government ‘soon’ after it is defeated on its central policy platform.
Moments before the historic vote, Mrs May told MPs: ‘Parliament gave the people a choice, we set the clock ticking on our departure and tonight we will determine whether we move forward with a Withdrawal Agreement that honours the vote and sets us on course for a better future.
‘The responsibility of each and every one of us at this moment is profound, for this is a historic decision that will set the future of our country for generations.’
But the Labour leader Mrs Corbyn called on MPs to vote down the agreement, saying: ‘This deal is bad for our economy, a bad deal for our democracy, and a bad deal for this country.’
Mr Corbyn could use a point of order in the immediate wake of Tuesday's vote to trigger a no-confidence debate as early as Wednesday.
And Mrs May is expected to deliver her immediate response to the historic reverse in a statement to the Commons moments after her anticipated drubbing.
Attorney General Geoffrey Cox appeared to indicate that the PM will resist pressure to tear up her plan or to seek cross-party consensus on a new approach.
Earlier the chief legal adviser to the government said MPs risk being viewed as ‘children in the playground’ if they create legal uncertainty by rejecting the deal, adding: ‘We are playing with people's lives’.
Mr Cox attempted to put the squeeze on wavering colleagues with a typically theatrical speech as the marathon eight-day debate on the Brexit deal entered its final hours.
Five votes are on the table tonight after Commons speaker John Bercow said he has selected four amendments for consideration, ignoring an Irish border backstop proposal and one on workers' rights which ministers had signalled their support for.
The amendments selected include Labour's bid to reject the deal and ‘pursue every option’ to prevent the UK leaving the EU with no deal, and Conservative former minister Sir Edward Leigh's attempt to ensure the Irish border backstop is temporary.