Ben Lowry: Tory chief whip Julian Smith spoke to the prime minister, perhaps to give her the result, and she stayed poker faced

Chief whip Julian Smith, left, looks on as the Prime Minister Theresa May speaks in the crowded House of Commons in London after losing a vote on her Brexit plan on Tuesday. Moments earlier, he had bent over Mrs May's ear to inform her of the disastrous defeat. Photo: UK Parliament/Mark Duffy/PA Wire
Chief whip Julian Smith, left, looks on as the Prime Minister Theresa May speaks in the crowded House of Commons in London after losing a vote on her Brexit plan on Tuesday. Moments earlier, he had bent over Mrs May's ear to inform her of the disastrous defeat. Photo: UK Parliament/Mark Duffy/PA Wire
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The public and press galleries in the House of Commons were not only crammed last night for the Brexit vote, but all spaces had been taken up by hundreds of people hours before the division, writes Ben Lowry from the House of Commons gallery.

Beneath the galleries, in the chamber itself, there was not enough room for all the MPs who wanted to get into it to do so. They crowded around the benches and speaker’s chair and main entrance door, to await the announcement of the result.

Speaker John Bercow speaking in the crammed House of Commons in London. Photo: UK Parliament/Mark Duffy/PA Wire

Speaker John Bercow speaking in the crammed House of Commons in London. Photo: UK Parliament/Mark Duffy/PA Wire

After the Speaker, John Bercow, ordered the division doors to be locked, and as the votes were in the final stages of being tallied, the Conservative chief whip Julian Smith bent down to speak to Theresa May.

With his head so close to the prime minister that presumably not even the ministers right beside them could have heard what he was saying, and no lip reader from afar could have ascertained their conversation, Mr Smith said something to Mrs May.

Amid the noise and chatter and high sense of expectation across the chamber and galleries, a rumour swept the public seating upstairs that the vote had been quite close.

This appeared to fit with a comment to the News Letter by one MP earlier yesterday, who said that there was speculation that the scale of the possible government loss was being talked up in advance so that a defeat by, say, 60 or 80 votes would then seem not so bad, and appear almost like a victory of sorts.

Chief Whip Julian Smith (left) and Prime Minister Theresa May Chief of Staff Gavin Barwell, leave 10 Downing Street, London, following the House of Commons vote on the Prime Minister's Brexit deal on Tuesday January 15, 2019. Photo: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

Chief Whip Julian Smith (left) and Prime Minister Theresa May Chief of Staff Gavin Barwell, leave 10 Downing Street, London, following the House of Commons vote on the Prime Minister's Brexit deal on Tuesday January 15, 2019. Photo: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

After Mr Smith spoke to the PM, she was poker faced and betrayed no emotion at all.

Perhaps her speech, much praised by many observers, had caused some backbench Tories to pull back from the brink and support her Brexit plan?

Then, to gasps, the result was read out: 202 votes for the government’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, 432 votes against.

A disastrous defeat by a margin of 230 votes, almost exactly the 228 majority that some political analysts had predicted earlier this month.

Mr Smith, it transpired, had been giving the PM her first concrete indication that she had suffered one of the greatest parliamentary defeats in modern history.