Brexit — the ill-advised scheme to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union — has inspired a new level of rancor and disorder in the British Parliament.

This week, the new prime minister, Boris Johnson, was defeated in votes on the first three measures he brought before the House of Commons. Such a stunning string of losses is unprecedented in British politics and would normally lead to the collapse of the prime minister’s government and new elections. But, not only is Johnson still clinging to his job, his offer to hold a national election on October 15th was rejected by the opposition Labour Party.

Labour leaders do not trust Johnson to stick to that date, suspecting that he might push the election closer to October 31st, the date when the U.K. is set to be dumped from the EU with no agreement to smooth the country’s exit and avoid possible dire economic consequences. Johnson has said he is quite prepared to leave without a deal. His opponents fear that means he is plotting to leave no time for debate about a last-minute delay or further negotiations to strike a new agreement with the Europeans.

There are a host of complicating factors at work, but the simple fact is that the Brits have gotten themselves into a huge mess and no one knows how to find a way out. Worst case scenarios envision a no-deal Brexit that not only results in economic disaster for Britain, but could also lead to a renewal of separatist violence in Northern Ireland and the secession of Scotland from the U.K.

Various other scenarios are not much more rosy. The best case scenario — that after a few economic realignments, all will be well in the queen’s realm — seems the least likely of all.

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