The UK Parliament on Wednesday rejected a chaotic no-deal Brexit by a narrow margin, preventing Britain from crashing out of the European Union without any transition phase. The House of Commons voted against the deal by 312 votes to 308.
British MPs will now vote on Thursday on whether to ask for delaying Britain's departure beyond March 29 by extending Article 50 - the legal mechanism that takes the UK out of the 28-member economic bloc. This would have to be ratified by the EU and the length of extension will become the next focus on both sides.
However, how the EU will react to an extension request remains unclear at this stage, given that it is preparing for its own EU elections towards the end of May. Brussels has already made it clear that it will not renegotiate the deal thrashed out with the UK over two years of prolonged talks.
Unless agreed otherwise, Britain leaving the EU by March 29 remains the default Brexit option by law. "Today we are in the hands of the British political system. They should tell us where they want to go from now. The solution will have to come from London," European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans told the European Parliament earlier in the day.
Tuesday's vote was triggered after British Prime Minister Theresa May suffered another shattering loss in parliament on Tuesday, with lawmakers voting against her Brexit deal by 391 to 242. Her Brexit divorce bill was defeated by 149 votes despite a final push by her to try and convince hard-Brexiteers that the concessions she had won to the controversial Irish backstop clause would not see the UK tied to the EU rules indefinitely.
The March-end deadline kicked in when the UK triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty following a referendum in favour of Brexit by nearly 52 per cent to 48 per cent in June 2016.
(With inputs from agencies.)