Inside the White House with D.C.'s most wired reporter. Sign up for Mike Allen's Axios AM.

Stories

Theresa May's historic Brexit defeat opens the door to the extreme

Demonstrators outside the Palace of Westminster. Photo: John Keeble/Getty Images

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal was defeated on Tuesday in the House of Commons — a vote she described earlier as "the most significant" in recent British political history — by a historic 202 to 432 margin, the biggest defeat for a reigning government in more than a century.

Why it matters: No one is really sure what happens next. The U.K. is currently set to leave the EU on March 29, a step with economic and political reverberations that will last for generations, but it's not at all clear what that exit will look like — or if it will ultimately happen on time or at all.

The big picture: Ahead of the vote, May told members: "A vote against this deal is a vote for nothing more than uncertainty, division, and the very real risk of no deal."

By the numbers: There's now a 45% chance that one of three previously extreme scenarios — fresh elections (10%), no deal (5%) or a second referendum (30%) — comes to pass, per a new forecast from the Economist Intelligence Unit.

  • Fresh elections: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn immediately tabled a motion of no confidence in May’s government in an effort to force a general election. The conventional wisdom is that members are so fearful of a Prime Minister Corbyn that they’ll back May. But the conventional wisdom has a poor track record when it comes to Brexit.
  • No deal: There’s little appetite in Westminster, or in Brussels, for the U.K. to crash out of the EU without a deal. The economic consequences would be dire. But Brexit Day is just six weeks away, and May says "no deal" is a "very real risk." She’ll almost certainly have to buy time from Brussels in order to avoid it.
  • No Brexit: A second referendum has never looked more likely. A growing chorus says it’s the only logical step, considering no possible deal commands a majority in Parliament. European Council President Donald Tusk joined in today, tweeting: "If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?"

What's next: May is required to bring another plan before Parliament within 3 days, but she doesn't have much wiggle room, as the EU says it won't renegotiate the deal. If she can't find a solution that satisfies Parliament, a second referendum — which once seemed out of the question — becomes a very real possibility.

Go deeper: Brexit's Irish border headache