Prime Minister Boris Johnson's goal of taking Britain out of the European Union on Oct. 31 looks to have bitten the dust after lawmakers blocked his attempt to fast-track a Brexit bill through Parliament. The ball is now in the court of the EU, which must decide whether to postpone the U.K.'s departure for a third time.
"I don't think the people of this country want a delay. I don't want a delay," Johnson said Wednesday. But a delay is in the cards.
Here's a look at what could happen next.
BRITAIN LEAVES THE EU WITHOUT A DEAL ON OCT. 31
As it stands, Britain is due to leave the bloc in eight days even if no divorce deal is in place setting out the terms. A no-deal Brexit would bring instant barriers to trade between Britain and the EU, and severely hit economies on both sides. Britain could see gridlock at ports, shortages of some food and medicines and a deep recession.
To avoid that, Parliament passed a law ordering Johnson to ask for a three-month delay to Britain's exit if Oct. 31 was looming without a deal in place. Johnson made the request Saturday, and European Council President Donald Tusk says he will recommend the bloc agree.
Leaders of the 27 other EU countries — who must agree unanimously — are weary and frustrated at Britain's interminable Brexit melodrama. But they also want to avoid the economic pain that would come to both the U.K. and the bloc from a sudden and disruptive British exit. That means that, despite their grumbling, they are likely to grant a delay.
Johnson says he personally opposes an extension, but he is obliged by law to accept if the EU offers one.
That means the U.K. is unlikely to leave the EU at the end of this month.
BRITAIN LEAVES WITH A DEAL AFTER A FEW WEEKS' DELAY
Opposition lawmakers voted to block Johnson's attempt to push his Brexit bill through Parliament in a matter of days because they said it doesn't give them enough time to properly scrutinize it. Johnson could agree to give lawmakers a few more weeks and push on with the bill, though that would mean formally accepting that his vow to deliver an Oct. 31 Brexit is dead.
If Johnson chooses this route, Britain might be able to leave the EU in a matter of weeks — if, that is, Parliament votes for Johnson's bill. Opposition lawmakers plan to seek amendments that could substantially alter the bill, for example by adding a requirement that the Brexit deal be put to voters in a new referendum. The government says such an amendment would wreck its legislation and it will withdraw the bill if it succeeds.
The European Parliament also must approve the divorce deal, but it is not expected to object.
BRITAIN HOLDS AN ELECTION DURING A DELAY OF A FEW MONTHS
The government's other option is to try to trigger a snap general election, in hopes it will shake up the composition of the House of Commons, deliver a majority for Johnson's Conservatives and break the impasse that has brought Brexit to a grinding halt.
Elections take five or six weeks, so this will only be possible of the EU offers the extension until Jan. 31 that Britain has asked for, or a longer one.
And, to complicate things for Johnson, he can't just call an election on his own. He needs either to win a vote in Parliament by a two-thirds majority or lose a no-confidence vote, which so far opposition parties have refused to call. The main opposition Labour Party says it will only support an election once a "no-deal crash-out" from the EU is off the table.
An election could break the logjam — or it could result in a Parliament as fractious and divided as the one Britain has now.
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