If you haven’t gotten enough Brexit drama yet, you’re in luck; the whole process just got a bit longer and the plot is still full of suspense.
The U.K. Parliament on Thursday voted to extend Britain’s departure from the European Union past the deadline of March 29.
Lawmakers in the U.K. House of Commons approved 412 to 202 a government proposal to push Brexit weeks—if not months—past the previous drop-dead date. That outcome was all but inevitable after Parliament on Tuesday shot down Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan for a second time, with no viable alternative and barely two weeks left on the countdown clock.
How long the Brexit delay will last depends—if you can believe it—on how Parliament votes on May’s deal a third time. It will be up for another “meaningful vote” next week. Should it pass, May will ask the EU to extend the Brexit deadline until June 30, which will give the U.K. enough time—in theory—to exit the EU in an orderly fashion. If May’s deal doesn’t pass next week, she will ask the EU for a delay of unspecified length, adding another great big unknown to a process already full of them.
The vagueness of the latter option is leverage in the eyes of the Conservative government; it’s an appeal to hardline Brexit supporters to back May’s deal. After all, the longer the delay, the more opportunity anti-Brexit lawmakers will have to reverse the referendum result; delay with no end date could potentially mean no Brexit in the end.
The delay, it should be noted, will only go into effect if the other 27 EU member states unanimously approve it. That’s expected to happen though, since the EU fears the U.K. crashing out of the bloc in a chaotic no-deal Brexit—still the default, by the way—perhaps as much as the U.K. itself.
Parliament did have opportunities to dramatically shift the course of Brexit on Thursday night, but it voted down all other measures. A proposal by the opposition Labour party to extend the Brexit deadline indefinitely in order to seek a new approach lost by 16 votes. A bid for Parliament to wrest Brexit control away from May by way of “indicative votes” on a new deal lost by an even narrower two vote margin. And a second referendum was handily rejected as many Labour MPs abstained, apparently deeming this the wrong time to consider the matter, though they support such a vote.
So after more than two and half years steeped in stalemates, Parliament finally agreed on something: additional time to debate the same deal it’s already twice rejected, while giving concerned businesses and an exhausted public no new assurances on how this will end. In other words: more of the same.