Why Theresa May has delayed her vote on her Brexit deal

Theresa May has announced she is delaying the vote by the House of Commons on her Brexit deal.

- Why has the Prime Minister put the vote on hold?

Prime Minister Theresa May arrives back at 10 Downing Street, London. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Prime Minister Theresa May arrives back at 10 Downing Street, London. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Mrs May finally acknowledged what many MPs have been saying for weeks - the Government was heading for an overwhelming defeat if it pressed ahead with the vote on Tuesday.

- So what happens next?

Mrs May said she will go back to Brussels to seek fresh assurances from the EU about the operation of the so-called Northern Ireland backstop - the key sticking point for many MPs.

She will hope to use the breathing space to win round enough of her critics to rescue the agreement - although, given the level of hostility to her deal, that could prove to be a tall order.

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- What was the response from MPs?

It is fair to say many critics were not impressed. MPs warned simply ‘tweaking’ the backstop would not be enough to allay their deep-rooted concerns.

Remain supporters called for a second referendum, while the SNP and Liberal Democrats - along with some Labour MPs - urged Jeremy Corbyn to move a vote of no confidence.

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- What about the reaction in Brussels?

EU leaders were quick voice their dismay, while making clear there was no appetite for reopening negotiations on the Brexit deal at this late stage.

European Council president Donald Tusk hinted at some wriggle room, however, suggesting they could look at ways to ‘facilitate UK ratification’ when leaders meet in Brussels on Thursday.

- So when will the vote take place?

For the moment the Government is not saying, although it looks likely to be early in the new year as MPs return to Westminster on January 7 following their Christmas break.

Ministers could still decide to go before Christmas if they feel the tide is turning in their direction.

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- What happens if the Government loses?

All bets are off. A Tory leadership challenge, a vote of no confidence, a General Election, the formation of a government of national unity, a "hard" no-deal Brexit, or a so-called "people's vote" with an option to remain in the EU are just some of the possible outcomes being talked about at Westminster.

By Gavin Cordon, Press Association Whitehall Editor