It's make-or-break week for Brexit as clock ticks

It’s 11 days until the UK is due to shed its European Union membership and, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson so often says, “take back control.”

Problem is, right now there’s no control. Headed into yet another “crunch” week for Brexit where anything could happen, the UK is careering towards a true crisis.

A special sitting of Parliament Saturday resulted in another defeat for Johnson. Lawmakers, stung by his repeated efforts to bypass them, slapped him with an amendment that required him to ask the EU to defer Brexit until January 31. Johnson grudgingly sent that letter — unsigned — late in the evening. He sent another — this one he signed — arguing a further delay would be a mistake.

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There are two things to watch: whether the EU grants an extension and the gyrations in the UK Parliament. Debate on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (which implements Brexit) could begin as soon as Tuesday, after the prime minister makes another attempt this week to get Parliament to sign off on the principle of his deal.

It’s a massive gamble for a leader lacking a parliamentary majority. The whole thing will be decided by a handful of votes. Johnson will need all of his powers of persuasion and famous oratory wit. The ticking clock, and the desire among lawmakers to avoid a chaotic no-deal exit, might help him.

In the incredible three-year soap opera of Brexit, the finale will be a cliff-hanger.

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Lawmakers voted 322 to 306 to force Johnson to seek an extension — an insurance policy against a no-deal Brexit if there’s still no agreement by October 31. He needs to persuade 61 Members of Parliament to back his deal. Rob Hutton and Greg Ritchie crunched the numbers to conclude Johnson now has 62, based on what lawmakers said and did both in the debate before Saturday’s vote and during it.  

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