It took five attempts by two prime ministers over 3-1/2 years for the House of Commons to cast its first vote in support of a deal to take Britain out of the European Union. Tuesday's milestone vote, however, still leaves Brexit floundering on the rocks. A rescue plan will call for more than the calculated expediency that Britain's political parties have summoned thus far. In a matter of 15 minutes, the British Parliament first voted to support Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Withdrawal Agreement Bill - and then discarded his three-day timetable to pass it. As the Oct 31 Brexit deadline became untenable, Mr Johnson announced that the legislation would be "paused" until the EU decides if it will grant Britain an extension.
The EU, anxious as ever to avoid becoming the cause of a no-deal Brexit, will find a way to grant that extension. It may go the accordion route, offering a few more weeks - which would meet MPs' demand for time to scrutinise the deal - with the option to stretch the timeframe to next year if a deal is still not in the bag. The flexibility will by no means end the uncertainties that pave this path. For one thing, the Bill's provisions - which include contentious issues like a sea border between Northern Ireland and Britain to replace the "backstop" meant to avoid a hard border with Ireland - may cause the bile to rise again, and the deal may unravel. But, even if sheer public pressure to move on with Brexit persuades the MPs to sign off on the deal, the fog of uncertainty will still swirl on.