Theresa May's authority has suffered another significant blow with a second humiliating Commons defeat on Brexit – as a Cabinet source revealed she is now preparing to rule out a no-deal outcome.

The Prime Minister failed to turn up in the Commons when the vote result was read out to a loud cheer from the Opposition benches and shouts of “where is she?”

It was 303 votes to 258, a majority of 45, against the motion endorsing the Government’s approach.

Ministers sought to dismiss the defeat as no more than a “hiccup” as No 10 insisted Mrs May would continue talks with Brussels regardless.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon responded to the vote by saying: “The Brexit farce gets even more farcical.”

The defeat shattered the fragile Tory unity and came after the pro-Brexit European Research Group (ERG) announced it had taken a “collective decision” to abstain.

Yet the voting figures showed a number of Tory remainers also declined to vote, meaning more than one-fifth of the party in the Commons, 67, failed to back the Government. 

Five Conservatives even voted with the Opposition.

Read more: Theresa May to rule out no-deal outcome ahead of 'moment of truth' vote on February 27


Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood accused the ERG of “acting as 
a party within a party” while Business Minister Richard Harrington accused the Brexiters of “treachery”, suggesting they were not true Conservatives.

But Steve Baker, the ERG’s deputy chairman, said its members were nothad not been prepared to be “co-opted” into taking no deal off the table. 

He dismissed the internal row as a “storm in a teacup,” and insisted the PM’s negotiating mandate remained unchanged.

After the vote, Jeremy Corbyn took to the dispatch box to insist the PM needed to accept her strategy had failed and urged her to come forward with a plan that could bring people together to prevent the “catastrophe” of a no-deal Brexit.

“She cannot keep on just running down the clock and hoping that something will turn up that will save her day and save her face,” declared the Labour leader.

John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, invited Stephen Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, to respond but the minister shook his head.

Earlier, the SNP amendment to extend the Article 50 period was defeated by 315 votes to 93, a majority of 222 but 41 Labour MPs rebelled against Mr Corbyn to support it.

Ian Blackford, the Nationalist leader, after what he said was a “significant defeat for the Government,” called for the meaningful vote to be brought forward to next week, stressing: “People in the UK want certainty.”

Later, a Downing Street spokesman accused Mr Corbyn of putting party before country, stressing how by once again voting against the Government’s motion he was “in effect voting to make no-deal more likely”.

He pointed out how the vote on January 29 showed what Parliament did want: to secure legally-binding changes to address MPs’ concerns about the backstop. 
And, intriguingly, the spokesman noted how some Tory colleagues had expressed concerns about taking no-deal off the table “at this stage”.

Earlier, a Cabinet minister told The Herald Mrs May was preparing to rule out Britain leaving without a deal next month and would come up with “a form of words”, ahead of the February 27 Commons vote, that would satisfy colleagues and avert a Cabinet rebellion.

Several senior ministers like Amber Rudd and Greg Clark have already hinted they would resign rather than be part of a government that took Britain over a Brexit cliff-edge.

“February 27 will be the moment of truth,” declared the senior Government source. “It’s when people will have to make a decision.”

Another Whitehall insider suggested the PM’s no-deal rejection would negate the need for people to vote for the Government’s main threat on February 27: the amendment set down by Labour’s Yvette Cooper, which says if the PM has not got a deal through Parliament by March 13, then MPs would either have to vote to agree a no-deal Brexit or force her to seek an Article 50 extension.

The Cabinet minister’s suggestion is in direct conflict with the PM’s current position, which is, that the only way a no-deal Brexit can be ruled out is either by agreeing a deal or revoking Article 50.

A U-turn would also spark a major backlash from the ERG, which believes keeping the option of a no-deal outcome on the table adds to Britain’s negotiating strength with Brussels.

But following the Government defeat in the Commons Nick Boles, the former minister, urged Mrs May to stand up to the Tory Brexiteers, tweeting: “Maybe, just maybe, the penny will now drop with Prime Minister and her Chief Whip that the hardliners in the ERG want a no-deal Brexit and will stop at nothing to get it. Responsible MPs of all parties must come together on March 27 and 28 and stop them.”