Theresa May is to return to Brussels after securing a parliamentary mandate to scrap the Irish backstop as she defeated a bid to extend the talks process beyond Brexit Day on March 29.

But MPs sought to remove from her hands one of her strongest negotiating weapons by voting to rule out a no-deal Brexit.

Just two weeks after the Prime Minister saw her withdrawal plan suffer a humiliating and historic defeat, Conservative roars echoed around the Commons chamber when the amendment, backed by the Government, succeeded by 317 votes to 301, a majority of 16.

The proposal by senior Tory Sir Graham Brady calls for the backstop to be “replaced by alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border”. It was not only supported by the anti-EU Conservatives of the European Research Group and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists but also seven Labour MPs. Eight Tories, including former Chancellor Ken Clarke, voted against it.

However, in a swift response, Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, insisted the Withdrawal Agreement, containing the backstop, was “not open for renegotiation”.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament's chief Brexit negotiator, tweeted: "Welcome the UK Parliament's decision to reject a no-deal & the hope of cross-party talks on future relationship. We stand by Ireland & the Good Friday Agreement.

"There is no majority to re-open or dilute the Withdrawal Agreement in the @Europarl_EN including the backstop."


On foreign markets, the pound steadied on the PM’s victory after falling when the amendment to extend the Article 50 process was rejected.

In another night of high drama at Westminster, MPs voted down a series of amendments, including ones to extend the Article 50 process, put forward by Labour’s Yvette Cooper, and to allow MPs a series of indicative votes on Brexit options, tabled by Dominic Grieve, the former Conservative Attorney General.

The Commons approved a cross-party amendment, tabled by Midlands MPs Caroline Spelman and Jack Dromey, rejecting a no-deal Brexit by 318 to 310.

The vote is not legally binding on the Government but will, nonetheless, impose massive political pressure on Mrs May to delay Brexit from its scheduled date of March 29 should she fail to secure a new deal from Brussels.

Following the votes, the PM said that the result on the Brady amendment showed there was a means of securing a "substantial and sustainable majority in this House for leaving the EU with a deal" and vowed to seek a new agreement with Brussels. It is expected she will travel to the Belgian capital in the coming days.

Referring to the vote on the Spelman/Dromey amendment, she told MPs: "I agree that we should not leave without a deal. However, simply opposing no-deal is not enough to stop it.

"The Government will now redouble its efforts to get a deal that this House can support."

There was cries of disbelief from the opposition benches when Mrs May declared: "There is limited appetite for such a change in the EU and negotiating it will not be easy. But in contrast to a fortnight ago, this House has made it clear what it needs to approve a withdrawal agreement."

The PM said she would seek "legally binding changes to the Withdrawal Agreement that deal with concerns on the backstop while guaranteeing no return to a hard border".

And she told MPs: "If this House can come together, we can deliver the decision the British people took in June 2016, restore faith in our democracy and get on with building a country that works for everyone. As Prime Minister I will work with members across the House to do just that."

Jeremy Corbyn, who had steadfastly refused to talk to Mrs May on the Brexit process unless she took a no-deal outcome off the table, told MPs he was now prepared to meet with her following the Commons votes.

The Labour leader said: Now that the House has voted emphatically to reject the no-deal option the Prime Minister was supporting, could I say we are now prepared to meet her to put forward the points of view from the Labour Party of the kind of deal we want from the European Union.

"To protect jobs, to protect livings standards, and to protect rights and conditions in this country."

Ian Blackford for the SNP caused uproar from the Conservative benches when he claimed that by passing the Brady amendment the Government had "ripped up the Good Friday Agreement".

To jeers from Tory MPs he continued: "We were told the backstop was there to protect the peace process but tonight the Conservative Party has effectively ripped apart the Good Friday Agreement. This House should be ashamed of itself."

The Highland MP also insisted Scotland had been "silenced, sidelined and shafted by the Tories".

But later Stephen Kerr, the Conservative MP for Stirling, hit back, saying Mr Blackford’s “inflammatory and dangerous” comments were a “new low for the Nationalists”.

He told The Herald: “They were a disgrace. To use the Good Friday Agreement the way he did was absolutely shocking. His reckless and dangerous rhetoric should be immediately disowned by the First Minister and the SNP leadership.”

On the voting, Mr Kerr added that Westminster had “moved significantly toward getting an orderly Brexit”.

Elsewhere, Nicola Sturgeon took to Twitter, saying: “The House of Commons could have asserted itself tonight - instead it indulged the PM’s decision to chase a fairytale at the behest of the DUP/ERG, and increased the risk of no-deal in the process. A woeful abdication of responsibility.”

Sir Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: "The House of Commons has given contradictory instructions, both ruling out no deal and setting the Government on a collision course with the EU, ramping up the chances of no deal.

"Willing the ends but not the means for preventing no deal gets us nowhere.”

He added: "Parliament remains effectively deadlocked. The only way forward is a People's Vote with the option to remain in the EU."

In a joint statement, Labour's Yvette Cooper and Tory Nick Boles, whose bid to delay Brexit to prevent a no-deal departure from the EU was rejected, said they remained "deeply concerned that there is no safeguard in place to prevent a cliff-edge in March 2019". Their proposal could have resulted in a new law to prevent a no-deal outcome.

But Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, said the Conservatives had shown they "can and will come together in the national interest".

Boris Johnson, his predecessor, commenting on Mr Tusk’s remarks, saying: “It takes two to tango… Believe me the EU has every incentive to give us the deal we need."

He said that if the EU would not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, he would support the PM if she chose a "managed no-deal" Brexit.

He told Sky News: "I certainly think there are plenty of alternatives if they won't give us the change we need. It is possible to go for a different type of agreement, a much more bare-bones agreement; some would call it a managed no-deal.”

He added: "I don't see why that should not be achievable. I would certainly support the Prime Minister in achieving that."

Meanwhile, Carolyn Fairbairn, Director General of the CBI, expressed exasperation. "This is another deeply frustrating day for British business. The never-ending parliamentary process limps on while the economic impact of no deal planning accelerates,” she declared.

"The Brady amendment feels like a throw of the dice. It won't be worth the paper it is written on if it cannot be negotiated with the EU. Any renegotiation must happen quickly; succeed or fail fast,” she added.

In Dublin, the Irish government insisted: "The Withdrawal Agreement is not open for re-negotiation."

It said if the UK was willing to change its red lines, then that could lead to changes being made to the Political Declaration.

"A change in the UK red lines could lead to a change in the Political Declaration on the framework for the future relationship and a better overall outcome.”

But the Irish government added that it would be continuing with its contingency planning for all eventualities, including for a no-deal scenario.

How Tuesday's House of Commons vote unfolded:

  • Labour’s amendment - to allow MPs to vote on options to stop a no-deal exit, including a customs union, and the possibility of a second referendum – defeated by 327 votes to 296, a majority of 31;
  • The SNP’s amendment – which called for an extension of the Article 50 process and that a no-deal should be ruled out - defeated by 327 votes to 39, a majority of 288;
  • The Grieve amendment – which would have allowed Parliament to take control in creating a series of indicative votes on Brexit – defeated by 321 votes to 301, a majority of 20.
  • The Cooper amendment – which sought to wrest control of parliamentary business from the Government so a bill delaying Brexit could be rushed through the Commons in a day next Tuesday – defeated by 321 votes to 298, a majority of 23.
  • The Reeves amendment – sought a two-year extension of Article 50 if there were was no deal in place by February 26 – defeated by 322 votes to 290, a majority of 32.
  • The Spelman amendment – which simply says the UK would not leave the EU without a deal – succeeded by 318 votes to 310, a majority of eight.
  • The Brady amendment – seeks to replace the backstop with “alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border” – succeeded by 317 votes to 301, a majority of 16.