Britain's 800-year-old parliament has a big decision to make, and little time to make it. After months of drama and delay, the country's fate could be decided next week in a series of Brexit votes.
On March 12, May is expected to try once more to get her deal approved, though much will rest on whether she can secure extra assurances from Brussels about the thorny issue of Northern Ireland's border. If that vote fails, May will ask parliament a day later whether it wants to leave the European Union without any kind of exit deal, a potentially disruptive divorce with damaging consequences for the world's fifth largest economy.
If parliament rejects that outcome as well, lawmakers will then decide on March 14 if they want to try to delay Brexit, potentially opening the door to a wholesale renegotiation with the EU, or even a second referendum at home. If the process does go to a third ballot, when Speaker John Bercow bellows "Division!" and bells ring across parliament and beyond to alert lawmakers to the vote, Britain could be 15 minutes from taking its first step towards reversing Brexit.
As Brexit impasse drags on, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said yesterday "no solution" has been found so far to break the deadlock, a spokesman reported after the latest negotiations in Brussels. Briefing the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, Barnier said the talks "have been difficult," spokesman Margaritis Schinas said following the four hours of negotiations on Tuesday. Barnier informed the commissioners that "no solution has been identified at this point that is consistent with the withdrawal agreement," which the EU agreed with PM May in November.
The fact the outcome of the Brexit votes next week is still highly unpredictable is symptomatic of a parliament built on the principle that the majority rules. The 2016 decision to leave the EU fractured Britain, dividing families and communities, cities and villages. In parliament, where many struggle to accept the 52 percent to 48 percent result, there's no clear consensus on the way forward. Some say a second referendum is now the only way out, though critics argue that a so-called People's Vote would destroy faith in democracy, given the country already voted in 2016.