Prime Minister Boris Johnson told parliament on Tuesday that if it delayed his Brexit legislation he would abandon his attempt to ratify the deal to leave the European Union and push for an election instead.
As the clock ticks down to the latest Oct. 31 deadline for Britain's departure, Brexit is hanging in the balance as a divided parliament debates when, how and even whether it should happen.
After he was forced by opponents into the humiliation of asking the EU for a delay that he had vowed he would never seek, Johnson is battling to ram legislation through the House of Commons that will enact his last-minute Brexit deal.
In yet another day of high drama, lawmakers vote at around 1800 GMT on the 115-page Withdrawal Agreement Bill and then vote on the government's extremely tight timetable for approving the legislation.
Johnson cautioned parliament that if it delayed Brexit again by defeating his timetable then he would pull the legislation and push for an election which he would fight under the slogan of "Get Brexit Done".
"The bill will have to be pulled," Johnson said when asked what he would do if parliament defeated him. "We will have to go forward to a general election."
The prime minister would need to win a vote to trigger an early election because one is not scheduled until 2022.
Defeat in either of Tuesday's votes in parliament would scupper Johnson's plans to leave the EU on Oct. 31. He would have to decide whether to abide by a law that demands he accept any Brexit delay offered by the EU or somehow leave without a deal.
Victory, an imperfect indicator of support for Johnson's deal, would give opponents in parliament another chance to ambush the government with amendments that could wreck Johnson's plans by demanding a much closer post-Brexit relationship with the EU.
The pound was flat at $1.2946 in London trading. Foreign exchange markets now price in Britain either leaving with a deal or delaying Brexit, or possibly both.
Johnson said the best way to avoid a no-deal Brexit would be to approve his Brexit legislation, adding that the country was tired of the discussion in parliament.
BREXIT IN PLAY
More than three years since the United Kingdom voted 52% to 48% to leave the European Union, the Brexit crisis is straining Britain's political and constitution system to the breaking point.
Johnson confounded his opponents by winning a Brexit deal from the EU on Thursday, though he was forced by his opponents - reluctantly and with a mere unsigned photocopy - to ask for a Brexit delay on Saturday. House of Commons speaker John Bercow refused a vote on his deal on Monday.
If Johnson is defeated on Tuesday, much will depend on how the EU plays yet another Brexit quandary.
European Council President Donald Tusk said he was discussing the request for a Brexit delay with the leaders of the other 27 member states and would make a decision "in the coming days".
"I have no doubt that we should treat the British request for an extension in all seriousness," Tusk told lawmakers in the Strasbourg assembly of the European Union parliament. "A no-deal Brexit will never be our decision", he said to applause from lawmakers.
In a sign of the frustration in Brussels, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Brexit was a waste of time and energy and that the European Parliament could only approve Johnson's deal after the British parliament.
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage told the EU parliament that another delay was on the cards.
Behind the daily Brexit combat in parliament, the courts and at late-night EU summits, a much bigger game is being played over whether Brexit will happen at all.
Johnson faces legislative booby traps at every juncture, but the opponents of Brexit are also deeply divided - one of the main reasons their campaign to "Remain" failed in the 2016 referendum.
Still, Johnson is asking a divided parliament where he has no majority to approve in just three days one of the most important pieces of legislation in recent British history.
The so-called WAB (Withdrawal Agreement Bill) will have less time for debate in the House of Commons than a law to ban the use of wild animals in circuses, according to the Institute for Government.
Previous bills to implement major European treaties have taken 10 to 40 days to get through parliament. Government ministers said parliament has enough time to discuss every intricacy of Brexit.
The opposition Labour Party will vote against both WAB and the timetable, The Times's political editor said. The Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party are also likely oppose both, a UTV reporter said.