LONDON – Attempting to take control of Britain's tortured departure from the EU, lawmakers will try on Wednesday to answer the crucial question that has been unanswered for two years: What does Parliament want?
Over the opposition of Prime Minister Theresa May, lawmakers are expected to vote on a number of options for the withdrawal process known as Brexit – an extremely rare rejection of a British leader.
It could turn out to be an extraordinary turning point, as Members of Parliament are weighing up alternatives that Mrs May has refused to lay down for them. A new consensus could come across party lines, and she could indulge in increasing pressure within her party to say when she would go down.
Parliament's step comes in the midst of a deepening crisis in British politics, with the government disintegrating, the cabinet paralyzed and with Mrs. May shifting strategies apparently during the day and facing repeated calls to resign.
All of this unfolds for an increasingly frustrated and cynical public, asking about British democracy and the political elite, and whether it is capable of controlling national interest.
Meanwhile, the world sees Britain's folly in confusion. "If you compared England to a sphinx, the Sphinx would be an open book in comparison," said Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, to the European Parliament Wednesday at a meeting in Strasbourg, France. "Let's see how this book speaks during the next week or so."
Legislators have already twice denied the Brexit agreement, which Mrs May carefully negotiated with the EU, each with great margins. Last week, EU leaders agreed that Britain's request to delay its departure, which was put into effect on Friday, to avoid a chaotic exit without a agreement in place.
But time is short and Europe has grown frustrated with the death penalty. According to the postponement, Brexit will only enter into force on 22 May if Parliament accepts Mrs Mays agreement this week. If not, the new deadline is April 12.
The European Union expects the UK to indicate a way forward, said Donald Tusk, President of the Strasbourg European Council.
But European leaders reiterated that they were still open for a long Brexit delay – maybe two years – if, as Mr Tusk said, "Britain wants to rethink its Brexit strategy." This delay was to be agreed by April 12, only 16 days away.
Most UK analysts believe that Mrs May is in the twilight of her premiership, and the dramatic events in Parliament emphasize to what extent she has lost control of a process that has split her government and her party. She has suffered a number of dismissals from the cabinet and defeats in parliamentary votes that have no parallel in modern British history.
Votes in Parliament are expected to start at. Shortly before, Mrs May is meeting privately with lawmakers in her conservative party, some of whom call for her to stop – and soon – as the price for them to change their voices and support her unpopular Brexit plan.  There was a glimpse of hope for her. Some hardline pro-Brexit lawmakers, including Jacob Rees-Mogg, who heads a faction known as the European Research Group, indicate that they can now support their deal after months of resisting it.
Mrs. Mays plan could return to Parliament later this week if she gets more pledges of support, including from the Irish Democratic Unionist Party, whose 10 legislators usually support the government, but opposes Mrs May's Brexit plan.
On Wednesday, the head of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, a conservative legislator, told the BBC that there was a "real possibility" that Ms Mays plan could come back to voting as soon as Thursday.
A third attempt to pass it would be a very high order: Mrs May would need to get support from about 70 legislators who have already voted against it twice. If she succeeded, she would almost certainly have lifted Parliament's rebellion and made sure Brexit would take place soon and on her terms.
Wednesday will focus on the extraordinary parliamentary procedure organized by a multi-party group led by a Veteran Conservative Lawmaker, Oliver Letwin. About 16 options for Brexit have been suggested, maybe half will be selected to vote by the speakers of the House of Commons, John Bercow.
These are likely to include leaving the European Union, but keeping close links with it, revoking Brexit, making a referendum plan and ending without agreement.
Lawmakers are allowed to vote for as many of the options as they want. Initially, it is very unlikely to create clarity, and another day of debate and voting is likely to be required Monday.
The government has said it will not be bound by any result of these "guiding voices". But some legislators threaten that they will, if necessary, try to legislate to force the government to accept any consensus that ultimately emerges.
Mrs. May hopes that the prospect of Parliament accepting closer ties to the block than those planned in its plan will awaken strong Brexit supporters to support its proposals.
But some conservative lawmakers also want her to resign soon so they can install a successor in whom they are more confident to take responsibility for detailed trade negotiations that would take place after Brexit.
If Mrs May offers a detailed timetable for her termination, an urgent question is. On Wednesday, she asked if she wanted Mrs May to stay on, Leadsom said it was "a question for her" that added "I don't want to express an opinion".