Brexit just got a bit further away—maybe. After weeks of political gridlock, Britain's Parliament voted Thursday to seek a delay of the country's departure from the European Union, a move that will likely avert a chaotic withdrawal on the scheduled exit date of March 29. With Brexit due in 15 days and no divorce deal yet approved, the House of Commons voted 412-202 to ask the bloc to postpone Britain's exit until at least June 30, the AP reports. The vote gives Prime Minister Theresa May some breathing space, but is still humbling for a leader who has spent two years telling Britons they were leaving the bloc on March 29. Power to approve or reject the extension lies with the EU, which has signaled that it will only allow a delay if Britain either approves a divorce deal or makes a fundamental shift in its approach to Brexit. A look at what might happen next, per the AP:
- May wants to get an extension until June 30—but only if she can get Parliament to back her Brexit deal in a third vote by March 20. May's proposed Brexit deal has been defeated twice already by lawmakers. If it is defeated again, May says Britain will have to seek a long extension, with the risk that opponents of Brexit will use that time to soften the terms of departure or even overturn Britain's decision to leave.
- A Brexit extension requires approval from all 27 remaining EU member countries. They have an opportunity to grant such a request at a March 21-22 summit in Brussels. But the rest of the EU is reluctant to postpone Brexit beyond the May 23-26 election for the EU's legislature. The UK won't be represented in the European Parliament after it quits the EU; its seats already have been given to other countries to fill in the May election.
- The bloc may be open to a long delay, however, to allow Britain to radically change course. European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted Thursday he will appeal to EU leaders "to be open to a long extension if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus about it."
- Parliament's votes this week won't end Britain's Brexit crisis. Both lawmakers and the public remain split between backers of a clean break from the EU and those who favor continuing a close relationship, either through a post-Brexit trade deal or by reversing the June 2016 decision to leave. May's Conservative government is holding talks with its Northern Irish political allies and pro-Brexit backbench lawmakers to see if they will abandon their opposition to a deal they fear keeps Britain too closely tied to the bloc.
- If May's Brexit deal is defeated in a vote next week, the government says lawmakers will get to vote on several different options for Brexit to see if there is a majority for any of them.
- Opposition politicians think the only way forward is an early election that could rearrange Parliament and break the political deadlock. May has ruled that out, but could come to see it as her only option.
- And anti-Brexit campaigners haven't abandoned the idea of a new referendum on remaining in the EU. There's currently no majority for that in Parliament. A motion calling for a second referendum was defeated by a thumping 334-85 vote on Thursday. However, the political calculus could change if the paralysis drags on. The opposition Labour Party has said it would support a second referendum if other options were exhausted. Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said after Thursday's votes that a new Brexit referendum might offer a realistic way to break the deadlock.
(More on Thursday's proceedings here