I have just watched, live, Theresa May lose the vote on her deal by an unprecedented margin, 432-202. Every UK news source is quoting that this is the largest ever defeat "in the democratic age", or "since the 1920s", or similar.

The Guardian, for example, has a handy infographic mapping numbers to length for the scale of this defeat by 230 (source):

Theresa May losing a commons' vote

Has there ever been a defeat larger than this, before 1924? Why do the pundits draw the line at 1920 -- I presume because of the suffrage movement and the growth of the franchise during that period, but why does that alter the likely scale of political defeats in the Commons?

  • 1
    While I cannot speak for these pundits, I note that one thing that did happen around 1920 is the independence of (what is now) the Republic of Ireland, and thus the number of MPs from the Island of Ireland was reduced accordingly.
    – Joe C
    Commented Jan 15, 2019 at 22:13
  • It may well be that finding records of earlier votes is harder, and they use such qualifying language to indicate such
    – Caleth
    Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 13:02

1 Answer 1


One of the more notable reasons to use 1918 as cut-off is that it represented a high water mark in the number of MPs in Westminster. The Parliament Act of 1911 also functionally altered the balance of power between the Commons and the House of Lords, which has made Commons defeats much more significant. Indeed more peers than commoners served as premier in the 19th century.


Making comparisons with other votes throws up some difficulties. Your title question is currently "Has there ever been a larger UK Parliamentary defeat than on Brexit tonight?". The majority was 230 votes. For comparison :

  • In the current administration SNP opposition day motion (with no legal force) on the 29th November 2017 passed 288 to 0, with all government MPs abstaining.

  • Something very similar apparently occurred on 11th March 1977, with an opposition motion to adjourn passing 293-0 [I haven't been able to find this in Hansard yet].

If you wish to limit yourself to defeats on government motions, the People's Budget was defeated on November 30th by 350 votes to 75 in the House of Lords in 1909. This parliamentary defeat (though not a Commons one) was the action which precipitated the Parliament act.

If you want to further limit yourself to Commons defeats, I'm not aware of any, however Hansard, the transcript of record on parliamentary business only lists the results all divisions since 1909, with a somewhat spottier record back to the point the British parliament became the UK one following union with Ireland. If you want to search yourself, I suggest you start here.

  • 2
    This is true and makes sense, but doesn't actually answer my question -- has there been a defeat larger?
    – Landak
    Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 7:21
  • 2
    @Landak, I've edited in numbers for examples for some versions of your title question. I suspect you may have to edit your question if they don't satisfy you.
    – origimbo
    Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 13:49

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .