'Theresa May has suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of hardline Eurosceptics, plunging her hopes of uniting the Conservatives around a renegotiated Brexit deal into chaos.
The prime minister failed to win support for her EU strategy after the European Research Group (ERG), led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, abstained on a government motion because it appeared to rule out a no-deal Brexit.
The defeat marks the end of a temporary truce over Brexit among Conservative MPs, who had voted last month in favour of May’s strategy if she could obtain some concessions from Brussels on the issue of the Northern Ireland backstop.
The prime minister was not present for the House of Commons defeat, by 303 votes to 258, in which she again lost control of her party in the crucial final weeks before Britain is due to leave the EU on 29 March.
It is likely to cause fresh doubt in Brussels that May has the power to win parliament’s support for an amended EU withdrawal agreement. The Eurosceptic refusal to cooperate with No 10 underlined the difficulty the prime minister is likely to face in securing concessions from the EU that will satisfy them.
In Brussels, diplomats said the result confirmed that the prime minister was incapable of commanding the support of her party on key votes, and that she needed to work cross-party. “No one can take any good from this,” said one diplomat.
The vote is not binding but it appeared to be a show of strength by around 60 MPs in the ERG, which included Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary; Dominic Raab, the former Brexit secretary; and Steve Baker, the former Brexit minister. A small number of pro-EU MPs also refused to back the motion.'
Read more: Theresa May defeated on Brexit again as ERG Tories abstain
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