Brexit Secretary and Fenland MP Steve Barclay voted against a government motion he had supported just minutes earlier.
The Conservative MP for North East Cambridgeshire voted against calling for a short extension of Article 50 until the end of June to allow more time to agree a deal with the EU.
A short time earlier he had stood at the dispatch box in the House of Commons and wound up the debate on a delay, saying: “It is time for this House to act in the national interest, it’s time to put forward an extension that is realistic.”
His decision to then vote against the motion stunned experienced political commentators.
In the end MPs approved the extension by 412 votes to 202. In total 188 Conservative MPs – more than half the parliamentary party – voted against it, including several members of the Cabinet.
North West Cambridgeshire MP Shailesh Vara was one of the many Tory MPs to vote against his own Government’s motion, while independent MP for Peterborough Fiona Onasanya failed to vote.
Among those to comment on Mr Barclay’s apparent change of heart was BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, who tweeted: "Strangest 2 things of the night - Steve Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, voted against the plan he had been arguing for minutes before, and the chief whip who is in charge of getting MP s to back the govt, abstained.”
Guardian parliamentary sketch writer John Crace tweeted: “Stephen Barclay has just voted against the government motion for which he gave the closing speech. The cabinet has a death wish. How can the Brexit secrtary now negotiate for an extension? End of days part 993”
Alex Wickham, senior political correspondent for Buzzfeed UK, tweeted: “Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay at the despatch box at 5pm this evening: “It is time to put forward an extension that is realistic. I commend the Government motion to the House.” He then voted against it.”
Political editor of The Sun Tom Newton Dunn tweeted: “Confirmed: Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay voted AGAINST the PM’s motion he had just spoken from the Despatch Box in favour of to close the debate. Go figure.”
Nick Robinson, a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, also tweeted: “I’ve heard it all now. The Brexit Secretary has just voted against the motion that he’d just been arguing for. Anyone got a better word than Omnishambles?”
Any extension to Article 50 will need the support of the 27 other EU states. Otherwise the UK is still on course to leave the EU on March 29.
A third ‘meaningful vote’ on the Prime Minister’s deal is set to be held next week.
The Government has also revealed it will allow the Commons to hold indicative votes on different Brexit options after the EU Council summit which begins on Thursday.