The Chief Whip had a word with the Foreign Secretary, who was sitting on the step at the end of the Treasury Bench. Dominic Raab winced, and the Prime Minister also had a chastened look.
The Government knew shortly before the result was read out that it had lost the vote on the Programme Motion by 14.
But what a strange evening this was, for it had also won the vote on Second Reading by a majority of 30, with 19 Labour MPs joining the Government for that vote, but only five of those then consenting to the proposed timetable.
In the debate before the votes, Labour ran out of speakers, and we heard a succession of speeches from the Conservative side of the House.
Nobody had anything new to say. There was a listless, disorientated feeling to the House.
Robert Buckland, Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, said as he wound up for the Government that “all of us here have to look in the mirror”, even himself, and ask, “Are we up to the level of events?”
The answer is that MPs are almost up to the level of events, but not quite.
Oliver Letwin rose and said he would back the Prime Minister’s deal, because “for those of us who want to avoid the worst it is better than the worst”.
Buckland himself remarked that leaving the EU “comes as bitter gall to me personally”, but has to be done.
The two votes followed, expressing the willingness to do it, but rejecting the way of doing it.
The Prime Minister expressed a mixture of joy and disappointment at the result. He promised that “one way or another we will leave the EU with this deal to which this House has just given its assent”.
So the objective is clear: only the timetable is uncertain. He will speak to EU member states about their intentions and report back to the House.
Because the Prime Minister knows what he wants, and has got another part of the way there, he continues, despite the standstill to which the Bill was brought by the loss of the second vote, to convey a sense of direction, assisted by the 19 Labour members who voted with him in the first vote.
We shall presumably gain some sense at Prime Minister’s Questions tomorrow of how he intends to get the Withdrawal Bill over the line.