In Brief

Theresa May under pressure as MPs reject Brexit deal for a second time

Senior Tories could ask prime minister to stand down this week

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Theresa May's Brexit deal has been rejected by MPs by an overwhelming majority for a second time. 

With just 17 days to go to the Brexit deadline, MPs voted down the Prime Minister's deal by 149, in what The Guardian describes as a “catastrophic defeat”.

The outcome saw Britain “plunged into political crisis”, The Times says, and means Theresa May “all but lose control of Brexit”. The Financial Times says May’s authority is now “in shreds”. The Daily Mail concurred, describing the Commons as the “House of Fools”.

The prime minister convinced 47 Tory MPs to change their minds, but failed to overturn the historic 230-vote defeat she suffered in January. 

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn immediately called for a general election. “The government has been defeated again by an enormous majority and it must accept its deal is clearly dead and does not have the support of this House,” he told MPs.

Meanwhile, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier delivered an uncompromising verdict on Twitter. “The EU has done everything it can to help get the Withdrawal Agreement over the line,” he wrote. “The impasse can only be solved in the UK. Our 'no-deal' preparations are now more important than ever before.”

Following the defeat, the prime minister said MPs will get a vote today on whether the UK should leave the EU without a deal. If they vote against a no-deal Brexit, they will get another on whether Brexit should be delayed. 

She is granting Conservative MPs a free vote on a no-deal Brexit. However, Downing Street has been unable to say what would happen if MPs voted to take no-deal off the table but also voted against an extension.

May is facing growing pressure to quit. The Times says there is speculation that a delegation of senior Tories may ask her to resign this week.

Almost lost among the drama is a report yesterday from Reuters, quoting EU sources claiming a Brexit deal seemed close on Saturday after the European Union indicated legal ways for Britain to unilaterally leave the contentious Irish border backstop. The sources say the plan was rejected by May’s cabinet.

Commentators are painting May herself as a doomed figure. Referring to the prime minister’s hoarse voice in the Commons, the Daily Telegraph’s Allison Pearson describes her as “like a dying soprano with a Dalek croak: painful to watch”.

Sky News presenter Sophy Ridge summed up a painful day for May, saying: “First her voice gave up on her... and then her backbenchers.”

Britain is due to leave the European Union on 29 March.

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