LONDON — Britain’s Parliament shot down Theresa May’s Brexit deal Tuesday by an overwhelming majority of 230 votes, the biggest government defeat in history.
With the government’s proposed deal for exiting the European Union now off the table and the EU refusing to negotiate a new one, the political divides in the U.K. are deepening, with turmoil in the financial markets and more uncertainty for retailers, small businesses and fashion brands.
The British pound was volatile throughout the day and lost ground as the vote approached.
As Members of Parliament debated May’s deal, the pound fell by as much as 1.3 percent to $1.27, spurred by the uncertainty that a no-deal Brexit — or a potential second referendum — would incur.
Once the vote’s results were announced at 7:45 p.m. local time, the pound rose to $1.28.
Shares, bonds and other indices were also under scrutiny, putting investors at risk.
The FTSE 100 was less affected, closing 0.6 percent up, at 6,895.02 before the voting began.
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labor Party opposition, called the result a “catastrophic defeat” and tabled a motion of no-confidence in May’s government, set for tomorrow.
The no-confidence vote will take place Wednesday, after an all-day debate in the House of Commons.
If May wins, she can continue in office and will have to come up with a Brexit Plan B by next week. If she loses, her government will fall and there will be a 14-day period for the ruling Conservative party to form a new one.
For her part, May said her government will try to win the vote and will then hold meetings to confirm how to gain the confidence of the House of Commons over the proposed Brexit deal.
“It is clear that the House does not support this deal, but the vote tells us nothing about what it does support,” said May. “Every day that passes means more uncertainty, bitterness and rancor. I ask the House to work with the government to deliver on the people’s vote,” she said after her defeat.
Despite the overwhelming opposition, May stuck to her guns and defended her proposal as the only viable solution, dismissing all the alternative routes.
“It is a democratic process that got us to where we are today. Parliament gave people a choice, we set the clock ticking on our departure,” May said during her speech before the final vote.
She added that a second referendum would be a sign of Parliament being unwilling to deliver on the initial Brexit vote and deciding that “it’s all difficult and we should give up.”
She argued that a no-deal Brexit would fail to deliver on the government’s promises that even if the country left the EU, it would continue to trade with its neighboring countries.
She said a general election would only offer “two more months of ordeal and uncertainty” and benefit the interests of the leader of the opposition, Corbyn, rather than the national interest.
However strong her convictions, May was heckled mercilessly by Parliamentarians as she spoke. The big sticking point in her Brexit proposal is the future of the border between Northern Ireland, part of the U.K., and the Republic of Ireland, which is an an independent state and part of the European Union.
“We made a commitment to the people of Ireland and Northern Ireland that they can continue their lives as they are today, while continuing to honor the Belfast agreement,” said May, adding that she supports having a “seamless land border” something that is also essential for the country’s economy.
Aware that she was facing a defeat, May had postponed the vote in December, yet failed to gain the MPs’ favor in the meantime.