On Tuesday night, members of Parliament voted on competing proposals submitted by both pro-Brexit and pro-E.U. legislators. In the end, they demanded May return to Brussels to replace one of the more contentious parts of the agreement, known as the Irish backstop. It is an insurance policy that aims to prevent the reintroduction of a hard border between the Irish Republic, which will remain in the E.U., and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K. and will leave the bloc on March 29.
The E.U. has consistently said the departure deal it struck with May last year is not open to renegotiation.
I asked the relevant EU people what the response will be when @theresa_may asks to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement. All replied with just one word. It is “no”. This could be shortest and most hopeless renegotiation in history.
On Tuesday, lawmakers also approved a proposal calling on the government to stop a potentially disorderly "no-deal" scenario. While it is nonbinding, it sent a signal that a majority opposes such a departure.
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But unless Parliament agrees to back some sort of plan, that default position is exactly what's in store. In the event of a chaotic "no-deal" Brexit, the Bank of England has warned the economy could shrink by as much as 8 percent in about a year. It also estimated that the country's GDP could be up to 10.5 percent lower by the end of 2023 than how the economy appeared to be heading before the 2016 referendum.
In the hours before Tuesday's votes, lawmakers eagerly chatted with the press about why their preferred Brexit model would work best.
“I am 100 percent sure in so far as I can tell that the vast majority of my colleagues want to get an agreement with each other and with the E.U.,” Steve Baker, a Conservative member of Parliament, told NBC News.
Lawmakers from other parties were just as certain that their way forward would be the one to eventually bring together the divided House of Commons.
“There’s a lot of division and discord in the country and the task for us in the Labour Party is to speak to those 'leave' voters and 'remain' voters and unite the country,” said senior Labour Party lawmaker Andy McDonald.
Despite the divisions both inside Parliament and out, there was a festive atmosphere in the streets as hundreds of protesters on both sides of the debate waved signs, flags and balloons.
“We want out,” shouted supporters of leaving the E.U.
Not far away, a bus campaigning for another referendum drove by, drawing cheers from a group carrying E.U. flags.
With exit day drawing ever-closer, British businesses have sent regular warnings on the consequences of leaving without a deal.
On Monday, seven supermarkets, three fast food chains and the British Retail Consortium trade group begged lawmakers to avoid leaving the E.U. without an agreement.
“We are extremely concerned that our customers will be among the first to experience the realities of a 'no-deal' Brexit,” they wrote in a letter to lawmakers.
The absence of an agreement would significantly disrupt goods coming into the U.K., the letter said, pointing out that in March, when Britain is set to leave the E.U., the vast majority of lettuce, tomatoes and soft fruit come from Europe.
Another deeply frustrating day for business. Renegotiation is a throw-of-the-dice, it must succeed or fail fast. Rejecting no deal is welcome but doesn’t get a deal. Until MPs can agree a solution, the threat of no deal will continue to drain money from the UK.
Prices for basics could skyrocket, with the cost of beef increasing up to 29 percent, cheese up to 32 percent and tomatoes up to 18 percent, the BRC estimated in a report last year.
E.U. negotiators, meanwhile, have signaled frustration with Britain. The 28-country bloc's deputy chief negotiator Sabine Weyand said on Monday that there appeared to be a lack of "ownership" in Britain of the agreement struck between the two sides in November.
According to experts, the political deadlock is the result of a perfect storm.
“The divisions are down to the fact that we don’t do referendums very often and the U.K. system was never calibrated to respond to them," said Tim Durrant, a senior researcher on Brexit at the nonpartisan Institute for Government think tank. "In Britain's E.U. referendum, 'leave' could mean all things to all people.”
He added, "By holding a referendum and then taking the result as divine truth, it has changed how Parliament deals with finding a consensus.”
With the clock ticking, lawmakers are under more pressure than ever to come to some sort of compromise.
For Conservative lawmaker John Baron, the diversity of opinion is all part of the process.
“It’s a parliamentary democracy that’s actually working,” he said.
Rachel Elbaum is a London-based editor, producer and writer.