London (CNN)Boris Johnson was so close.
After negotiating a Brexit deal with the European Union that few thought he could pull off, the UK Prime Minister returned to London, hoping for another spectacular success in Parliament.
A meaningful vote on the plan appeared the last remaining obstacle separating Johnson from a feat that had so agonizingly eluded Theresa May.
But then, in a twist befitting of a national crisis that finds new and unexpected ways to re-energize itself at each turn, the PM was dealt a crushing blow.
The passing of the Letwin amendment, and Johnson’s subsequent request for a Brexit delay, has turned the saga on its head once more, setting up another vital week both in London and Brussels.
It doesn’t mean the fight is over by any stretch: if Johnson can pass his withdrawal agreement this week, along with the relevant legislation to enact the deal, Britain will be leaving the European Union in a matter of days.
But the setback stopped Johnson’s momentum in the most abrupt fashion, and offered those on all sides of the Brexit debate a path back into the race. An out-and-out battle to decide the country’s future is now set to break out this week — while on the continent, European leaders have their own decision to make about whether or not to extend the drama further.
Brexit isn’t over yet. In fact, it may just have been blown wide open.
A knife-edge vote
First on Johnson’s agenda this week will be putting his Brexit deal back up for a vote in Parliament — but even that could be complicated.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons, indicated on Saturday that Johnson planned for a vote on his deal on Monday.
But the Speaker, John Bercow, said he needs to decide whether or not to allow it first. Earlier in the year, Bercow ruled that the same bill cannot be presented to Parliament twice in the same form unless the circumstances are significantly different.
If Johnson does get the bill past the Speaker, the vote would not be make-or-break — Letwin’s amendments mean that subsequent votes on the withdrawal agreement must also be signed off for Brexit to take place.
But the results would give a clear indication as to whether Johnson has the numbers to pass a deal. If he does, Brexit legislation laid down from Tuesday would be expected to pass too.
Amber Rudd, who quit Johnson’s Cabinet last month after losing faith that he wanted to secure a deal, predicted on Sunday that the Prime Minister has a “fragile but sincere coalition” behind his bill.
“I do think it will get through,” she told Sky News.
Its success or failure may lie in how many Labour MPs rebel against the party whip to support the deal, and whether Johnson can convince the lawmakers he previously purged from his benches to embrace the pact.
Fifty shades of Brexit
The wider problem Johnson’s team faces is the can of worms opened by Letwin’s wrecking ball amendment.
Far from the straight vote on his deal that Johnson had intended, every part of his plan can now be amended in Parliament with whatever shades of Brexit that MPs wish to attach to it.
That means that, all of a sudden, a so-called Soft Brexit customs union arrangement is back on the table — potentially enticing a handful of moderates to switch their support from Johnson’s plan.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which supposedly props up Johnson’s minority government but whose MPs were left livid by the proposed installation of a customs border in the Irish Sea, have already enacted revenge by pushing the Letwin amendment over the line. They could now heap further misery on the PM by backing a softer alternative plan.
Also likely to emerge is another longshot push for a second referendum, which Labour would be expected to back. That follows a march on Saturday that saw hundreds of thousands demand another say.
So Parliament-watchers are now essentially faced with the prospect of both a “meaningful vote” and a series of indicative votes on Brexit alternatives being considered in tandem, a scene not too dissimilar from the hodgepodge of suggestions put forward in Parliament after it rejected Theresa May’s deal three times. In case you’ve forgotten, all of those suggestions failed too.
Extension or no deal?
There’s drama in Europe, too.
After claiming for weeks that he would never request a Brexit delay from the EU, even insisting he’d rather be “dead in a ditch,” Boris Johnson did just that on Saturday night.
For all the bluster and theater over photocopies, blank signatures and cover letters, that is the reality: Johnson sent a letter written for him by Parliament asking for a three-month extension, and the EU received it.
Now, it rests with European leaders to decide the next steps.
French President Emmanuel Macron has reprised his bad cop role, suggesting there is little need for a third extension to the process.
“I’m not trying to predict the future, but I do not think we shall grant any further delay,” Macron said after the deal was secured last week. “I believe it is now time to put an end to these negotiations and work on the future relationship.”
And it may be that the 27 leaders on the continent mimic that language in the coming days, hoping it will focus minds in London behind the new deal.
But should Johnson’s pact fail to pass through Parliament, most would expect the EU to reluctantly acquiesce to the request and grant Britain a delay.
The Prime Minister may still be wise to keep one eye north of the border on Monday — as not for the first time, a Scottish court hearing could scupper his plans further.
Judges in the nation’s highest court will consider a case that sought to force Johnson to comply with the Benn Act, forcing him to submit an extension request. The case may seem a moot point now, given that Johnson sent that request on Saturday night, but some have questioned whether he stuck to the spirit of the law by undermining his own request.
With confusion in Parliament, intrigue in the courts and protests on the streets, Brexit seems a long way from a conclusion.