Theresa May is facing a huge dilemma over whether to take a massive gamble on staging a third Commons vote on her Brexit deal.
After her personal sacrifice of a dramatic offer to quit persuaded some rebel Tory MPs to back her deal, she was dealt a crushing blow by Democratic Unionists.
DUP leader Arlene Foster stunned the Tory high command by declaring in a Sky News interview that the deal “posed an unacceptable risk to the integrity of the UK”.
Many MPs believe the continuing deadlock, made even more uncertain by the prime minister’s resignation announcement, makes a general election more likely.
Earlier, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay told MPs the government had tabled a Commons motion enabling a debate and vote on the PM’s deal on Friday.
But the prime minister and her closest allies now face an agonising decision on whether to go ahead with the vote and risk a defeat which could kill the deal for good.
Under a deadline set by the European Union, it must be passed by MPs by Friday at the latest if the UK is to benefit from the offer of an automatic delay to Brexit to 22 May.
But Commons Speaker John Bercow once again infuriated government ministers by repeating his ruling that there must be significant change to the deal if it is to be brought back for another Commons vote.
Brexit rebels who pledged their support for the PM’s deal, after her emotional vow to quit at a meeting of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, were led by Boris Johnson.
Mr Johnson told The Daily Telegraph: “I’ve done this on behalf of the 17.4 million people who voted for Brexit. I feel very, very sorry and though it fills me with pain, I’m going to have to support this thing.
“Sometimes you just have to make a judgement. We have got to get this thing over the line. You can hang on and be pure but in the end the thing I fought for may never happen.”
But there are still between 15 and 20 hardline Brexiteers who have vowed never to support the prime minister’s deal, as well as some Tory Remainers, which means Mrs May could be heading for yet another defeat.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, who earlier said he would support the PM’s deal if the DUP backed it, reacted to Mrs Foster’s rebuff by declaring: “I will support the DUP, if they are still opposing it.”
The PM finds herself in a dilemma following a chaotic evening in the Commons in which MPs rejected eight Brexit options including no deal, a customs union and a second referendum.
And in further evidence of a collapse in Tory discipline, almost 100 Tory MPs – including five cabinet ministers and even a number of government whips – voted against extending Article 50.
The closest MPs came to backing a Brexit option was a 272-264 vote against a motion from the Father of the House, arch Euro-phile Kenneth Clarke, on a UK-wide customs union.
A motion from Labour grandee Dame Margaret Beckett proposing a “confirmatory” referendum on any EU withdrawal agreement was also narrowly defeated, by 295 votes to 268.
After the results of the eight votes were announced by the Speaker, the Brexit secretary called on MPs to back the prime minister’s deal, but did not say when it would return to the Commons.
“It is the government’s firm wish to get the Withdrawal Agreement approved by this House,” said Mr Barclay.
“And I urge all members, no matter the view on what the future relationship should be, if you believe in delivering on the referendum result by leaving the EU with a deal, then it’s necessary to back the Withdrawal Agreement.
“If we do not do that, then there are no guarantees about where this process will end.
“It is for that reason that I call on all members from across this House, in the national interest, to back the prime minister’s deal.”
Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson MP said: “I’m proud that the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs have tonight joined together with those from all sides to back compromise proposals for a confirmatory public vote on the final deal.
“The majority of MPs and the British people do not want the prime minister’s broken Brexit deal. Nor do either the public or parliament back crashing out of the EU without a deal.
“Tonight has shown there is growing support for our compromise solution and that any new way forward will require enough time to be properly negotiated and scrutinised.
“When this parliament has finally made a decision on what Brexit means, I am hopeful that a majority will emerge for any final proposal to be put to a vote, not only by MPs, but also by the people.”