The UK's Labour Party's dramatic attempt to prevent a looming "no-deal" Brexit was defeated overnight as the government races headlong towards crashing out of the European Union.

MPs on both sides of politics have warned such a strategy could be catastrophic for Britain, but many of the country's candidates for prime minister support it.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Photo / AP
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Photo / AP

At least four of the 10 contestants for the role of UK Prime Minister have said they would pursue a no-deal Brexit if EU will not renegotiate the deal, which it has indicated it will not.

Candidates Dominic Raab and Esther McVey even said they would consider asking the Queen to suspend parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit.

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In response, Labour launched a desperate bid to gain cross-party support and block the incoming prime minister from pushing through a no-deal on the 31 October deadline.

"The debate on Brexit in the Tory leadership contest has descended into the disturbing, the ludicrous and the reckless," said shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer.

"MPs cannot be bystanders while the next Tory prime minister tries to crash the UK out of the European Union without a deal and without the consent of the British people."

He called on all MPs who disagreed with a no-deal to "back this motion and act in the national interest."

But Labour's hopes were dashed when the motion was narrowly voted down on Wednesday afternoon by a wafer-thin majority at 309 votes to 298.

The motion would have given MPs control of the parliamentary agenda on 25 June, and the opportunity to prevent the UK from leaving the EU without a deal. Now, Britain is once again flailing for a solution as despair grips the nation.

Mr Starmer's challenge came as leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson officially launched his campaign for the prime ministership, warning that any further delays could destroy the Tory party and put Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn into power.

"After three years and two missed deadlines, we must leave the EU on October 31," said Mr Johnson, the former foreign secretary and a prominent Brexit campaigner.

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"We will simply not get a result if we give the impression that we want to go on kicking the can down the road and yet more delay. Delay means defeat, delay means ruin.

"Around the country there is a feeling of disillusion and even despair at our ability to get things done. The longer it goes on, the worse the risk that there will be serious contamination and a real loss of confidence."

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage after being hit with a milkshake during a campaign walkabout. Photo / AP
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage after being hit with a milkshake during a campaign walkabout. Photo / AP

Over the coming weeks, Conservative MPs will vote until the field of candidates is whittled down to two, before the 160,000-strong membership across the country selects a final winner.

Outgoing UK Prime Minister Theresa May failed three times to get her Brexit agreement through the parliament, and her successor will face an even greater challenge. The Tory party came fifth in the European elections in its worst result in decades.

But things are not much better within the Labour, which also suffered dire results in the vote last month.

A Monday night meeting descended into bitter criticism of the party's Brexit strategy, with MPs blaming a vague position on the issue for their poor performance.

Mr Corbyn said Labour would "never accept no deal … nor will MPs from across parliament. We will work on a cross-party basis to block a no-deal outcome."

But Marie Rimmer told the meeting she had found it difficult to vote Labour and Lloyd Russell-Moyle argued for a members' ballot on a change of policy.

Labour MP Anna Turley said the meeting was "messy and difficult", adding: "The cleaners are probably still mopping up the blood on the carpet."

Ms Turley, who backs a second referendum, told the BBC: "Our results have not been going how we want and we have to be honest about that. It's no good pretending everything's fine while the Tories implode. We are not in the position that we should be and we've got to do better."

The European Commission warned on Wednesday that Britain will have to pay its outstanding share of the existing EU budget even if it leaves the union without a withdrawal agreement.

Brussels said it would not enter talks on future trade until London honours "the financial obligations the UK has made as a member state".

Under the Brexit withdrawal agreement agreed last year between Mrs May and her fellow EU leaders, Britain would owe the union approximately $70 billion.

If the UK leaves Europe without an agreement in October there will be no transition period, the EU statement said. Officials say this would save Britain around $20 billion — but the balance would be outstanding.

Both Mr Johnson and Donald Trump have suggested withholding the payment.