The House was crowded for and excited by the vote in a way that it had not been when the Prime Minister opened the debate. For some reason the result took longer than normal to arrive, but when it did, she had still lost by the humiliating margin of 149 votes.

Yet she rose at once, her face very pale but standing as straight and elegant as ever in her red jacket, and in her hoarse voice declared that she still believes there is a majority in the House for leaving in an orderly way with a deal, thereby fulfilling the referendum result.

How much longer will the House allow her to go on pursuing her version of that deal? How much longer will her divided party allow her to carry on?

How much more of this agony can she herself take? Is her instinctive clinging to a dead policy still viable?

There was a stunned atmosphere after the vote, for nobody could tell the answers to those questions.

They could just see a frail Prime Minister who had failed to wring anything like the concessions from the European Union which would have satisfied her critics that she had obtained an acceptable deal.

Her authority is now so diminished that it is hard to see how she can restore any sense of direction to the Government, or to her party, so many members of which defy her with impunity.

The sense that power was ebbing away from her was intensified by her announcement of a free vote on Wednesday on whether or not the House wishes to leave without a deal on 29th March.

Sir Vince Cable, for the Liberal Democrats, asked the Speaker whether he could think of any precedent for this defeat since the American War of Independence.

His clear implication was that Theresa May is the worst Prime Minister since Lord North. This comparison is actually very unfair to Lord North, who was a brilliant parliamentarian.

But Lord North, despite his gifts, is now only remembered for the loss of the American colonies. He took the blame, and that after all, is what the Prime Minister is there for: to take the blame.