LONDON — With just 73 days to go until Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union, lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected — by a vote of 432 to 202 — the withdrawal deal that had been painstakingly negotiated between Prime Minister Theresa May and the European Union.
The landslide vote was pure humiliation for a British leader who has spent the past two years trying to sell her vision of Brexit to skeptical public, and her failure increased doubts about how or whether Britain will leave the E.U. on March 29.
May stood almost alone in the House of Commons on Tuesday, as many in her own party abandoned their leader.
Historians had to go as far back as the 19th century to find a comparable party split and parliamentary defeat — to Prime Minister William Gladstone’s support for Irish home rule in 1886, which cut the Liberal Party in two.
“The events in Parliament today are really quite remarkable,” said Cambridge University political historian Luke Blaxill. “This doesn’t happen.” Meaning, usually British parties fight with one another in Parliament — but members don’t tear their own parties apart.
Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition Labour Party leader, called the loss historic and said May’s “delay and denial” had led to disaster. “She cannot seriously believe after two years of failure she is capable of negotiating a good deal,” Corbyn said.
He then introduced a motion of no-confidence, to be debated and voted upon on Wednesday.
Afterward, leaders of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which props up May’s minority government, announced they would support the prime minister, thereby making her ouster unlikely.
Rob Ford, a professor of politics at Manchester University, stressed that these were strange times. “Normally, if you were looking at a defeat of 50-plus votes on the No. 1 item on the government’s agenda, then that would be it. Game over. The prime minister would be gone and the government would probably fall immediately. But that’s clearly not going to happen,” Ford said.