Background The treatment of rest pain, ulceration, and gangrene of the leg (severe limb ischaemia) remains controversial. We instigated the BASIL trial to compare the Outcome of bypass surgery and balloon angioplasty in such patients. Methods We randomly assigned 452 patients, who presented to 27 UK hospitals with severe limb ischaemia due to infra-inguinal disease, to receive a surgery-first (n=228) or an angioplasty-first (n=224) strategy. The primary endpoint was amputation (of trial leg) free survival. Analysis was by intention to treat. The BASIL trial is registered with the National Research Register (NRR) and as an International Standard Randomised Controlled Trial, number ISRCTN45398889. Findings The trial ran for 5.5 years, and follow-up finished when patients reached an endpoint (amputation of trial leg above the ankle or death). Seven individuals were lost to follow-up after randomisation (three assigned angioplasty, two surgery); of these, three were lost (one angioplasty, two surgery) during the first year of follow-up. 195 (86%) of 228 patients assigned to bypass surgery and 216 (96%) of 224 to balloon angioplasty underwent an attempt at their allocated intervention at a median (IQR) of 6 (3-16) and 6 (2-20) days after randomisation, respectively. At the end of follow-up, 248 (55%) patients were alive without amputation (of trial leg), 38 (8%) alive with amputation, 36 (8%) dead after amputation, and 130 (29%) dead without amputation. After 6 months, the two strategies did not differ significantly in amputation-free survival (48 vs 60 patients; unadjusted hazard ratio 1.07, 95% CI 0.72-1.6; adjusted hazard ratio 0.73, 0.49-1.07). We saw no difference in health-related quality of life between the two strategies, but for the first year the hospital costs associated with a surgery-first strategy were about one third higher than those with an angioplasty-first strategy. Interpretation In patients presenting with severe limb ischaemia due to infra-inguinal disease and who are suitable for surgery and angioplasty, a bypass-surgery-first and a balloon-angioplasty-first strategy are associated with broadly similar outcomes in terms of amputation-free survival, and in the short-term, surgery is more expensive than angioplasty.