Theresa May will launch an audacious bid to reopen Brexit negotiations with the EU after MPs voted in favour of reforming the contentious Irish border backstop arrangements.
After a night of high drama, during which MPs voted against a plan that could have delayed Brexit, the Prime Minister said she had a fresh mandate to get changes to the withdrawal agreement.
In what could prove to be a significant moment in her attempts to get a deal, hardline Brexiters rowed in behind a plan to replace the controversial backstop with “alternative arrangements” for preventing a hard border with Ireland.
However, the scale of May’s task was made clear within minutes of her victory in the Commons, with a spokesman for European Commission President Donald Tusk insisting the withdrawal agreement signed off in December was not up for renegotiation.
Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, who resigned from the Cabinet last year in protest at May’s negotiation strategy, dismissed the comments.
“It takes two to tango,” he said, adding: “There’s a negotiation going on. You would expect him to say that but believe me the EU has every incentive to give us the deal we need.”
Leading into Tuesday night’s Commons votes, all eyes were on two amendments which were seen as potential game-changers.
Labour MP Yvette Cooper put forward a plan which would have given MPs the option of instructing May to extend the Article 50 negotiation process beyond March 29 if no deal had been struck by the end of February.
May argued the proposal achieved nothing other than delaying Brexit, and ordered her MPs to vote against the amendment.
While 17 Tories defied her orders, 14 Labour MPs voted with the government, helping them to a majority of 23.
The government then lost by eight votes a non-legally binding motion ruling out a no deal Brexit, prompting concerns among Tory whips they would also be defeated on the key amendment calling for a renegotiation of the backstop.
As MPs voted on that plan, put forward by senior Tory Sir Graham Brady, government chief whip Julian Smith approached Conservatives in the Commons chamber pleading with them for support.
The pro-EU Tory grandee Ken Clarke laughed him off, but former Cabinet minister Justine Greening was furious with the approach.
After Smith told her “We’re this close to losing power”, Greening shouted back: “This is the first time you have spoken to me about it!”
After the result was announced – with 317 MPs backing the plan and 301 voting against – May told MPs: "My colleagues and I will talk to the EU about how we address the House’s views."
She added: "There is limited appetite for such a change in the EU and negotiating it will not be easy. But in contrast to a fortnight ago, this House has made it clear what it needs to approve a Withdrawal Agreement."
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn responded to the Prime Minister by finally agreeing to meet her to discuss what he would like to see in the deal to gain the support of his party.
Corbyn had initially refused May's invitation for talks two weeks ago, saying the PM needed to rule out 'no deal' as a Brexit option first.
While the EU is currently refusing to reopen talks on the withdrawal agreement, the economic implications of no deal on the bloc's members were reinforced by a report from the Irish government.
It warned the country would see a four per cent hit to economic growth, a rise in unemployment and deteriorating public finances if there was no agreement between the UK and the EU.