LONDON — It was the day parliament “took back control” — to use a stock Brexiteer phrase.
Theresa May stood up in the House of Commons at 5:46 p.m. Tuesday to formally begin a week-long Brexit debate that will culminate in a vote to ratify — or reject — the Brexit deal she agreed with Brussels last month.
By then she had already been upstaged.
Minutes earlier, opposition parties and Conservative rebels defeated the government in a vote to give parliament more power to shape the contingency plan that will be needed if that vote is lost — and current numbers suggest it will be. It wasn’t even the first defeat of the day.
Whatever path Britain takes out of the Brexit quagmire, it is no longer up to the prime minister. Tuesday’s defeats for the government in the House of Commons show May can no longer command a majority on Brexit and lawmakers wielded their power to ensure they are able to force the government’s hand.
In a crowded House of Commons, May looked isolated as she made a final plea for her deal.
An hour before May got to her feet MPs declared the government in contempt of parliament because of its refusal to publish the full legal advice it has received on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. May’s administration promptly said it would publish the advice to avoid the unprecedented spectacle of ministers potentially being suspended from parliament.
The threat of such a severe punishment reflects parliament’s sovereign role in the U.K. political system; a sovereign role it is now asserting — with potentially dramatic consequences for Brexit.