MPs have dramatically voted to seize control of the Brexit process from Theresa May and give parliament a real say over alternatives to her EU divorce deal.
The Commons voted by 329 to 302 in favour of a cross-party amendment by Tory grandee Sir Oliver Letwin and Labour’s Hilary Benn to set out a series of ‘indicative’ votes on solutions such as a softer exit and even a second referendum.
In a fresh blow to the prime minister’s authority, MPs decided to take matters into their own hands after she earlier refused private calls from some Cabinet ministers to give parliament a greater role.
Foreign office minister Alistair Burt, business minister Richard Harrington and health minister Steve Brine all quit their posts in order to vote against the government.
The 27-strong majority for the amendment is the latest incident in a damaging few days for May, amid calls from her own MPs for her to step aside.
The Commons will start to take control of the parliamentary timetable on Wednesday, when it will finally begin the process of testing support for each of the ‘Plan B’ proposals.
Backers of a Norway-style Brexit - including a customs union - and a second referendum hope to build support for their plans in coming days.
May admitted on Monday she hasn’t yet got enough support for her own proposals, with both her DUP partners and hardline Brexiteer Tory MPs so far unconvinced.
No.10 still plans to bring her own deal back before the Commons a third time, but will now wait until later this week, possibly Thursday, cabinet office minister David Lidington suggested.
Earlier, May had told MPs her government would oppose the Letwin move as an “unwelcome precedent” that would “overturn the balance of our democratic institutions”.
But she sparked criticism from Labour when she warned that she “cannot commit” to delivering any alternative Brexit outcome that the Commons supported.
“The UK is only one half of the equation and the votes could lead to an outcome that is unnegotiable with the EU,” she said.
To jeers from the Opposition, May said she would not “give a blank cheque” to the indicative vote results and stressed that neither a customs union nor a second referendum were in the Tory manifesto in 2017.
Jeremy Corbyn warned May: “She cannot both accept her deal does not have the numbers and stand in the way of finding an alternative that may have the numbers.”
However, Lidington tried to placate MPs by saying “we do not, we have not and we do not intend to be dismissive in the least of how this House decides or votes”.
He pointed out that the government had respected two votes by MPs, one on ruling out no-deal and one on seeking an extension to the Article 50 process for quitting the EU.
May now faces an uphill battle to get her deal approved. It has twice been defeated, first by a record 230 votes and then by 149 votes.
She angered the DUP and the backbench European Research Group (ERG) on Monday by claiming that last week’s EU summit meant her original March 29 exit date could no longer go ahead under international law.