The PM will push for a general election if the EU agrees to delay Brexit until January, No 10 has indicated.
Boris Johnson “paused” his Brexit bill on Tuesday after MPs rejected his plan to get it signed off in three days.
Now EU leaders will consider whether to grant a delay to the 31 October Brexit deadline and what length it should be.
A letter Mr Johnson was forced by law to send to the bloc after failing to secure backing for his deal on Saturday calls for a three-month extension.
What happens now?
Although Downing Street has suggested its plan is to push for an election, the prime minister cannot force one unilaterally.
The move would need the backing of Parliament, and opposition MPs have previously ruled out holding one until the prospect of no-deal on 31 October was ruled out.
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland told BBC Breakfast that “regrettably it does seem that a general election is the only way to sort this impasse out”.
His opposite number, Labour’s Richard Burgon, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme his party would agree to a general election if the EU granted an extension because it meant a no-deal Brexit would certainly be “off the table”.
There are other options though – Conservative David Lidington, former de facto deputy prime minister under Theresa May, is urging the government to try again to pass its Brexit legislation – the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) – with an amended timetable.
He suggested the government should first ask the Labour Party how long its MPs needed to scrutinise the bill.
There is also the option of a further referendum, although it would require a Brexit delay and, most likely, a change of government first.
However, Mr Burgon said holding a referendum before an election – favoured by some of his Labour colleagues – was “fantasy politics”.
The SNP has indicated it wants an extension to allow for a general election, while the Liberal Democrats say the PM needs to get an extension to allow a further referendum. Both parties would rather the UK revoked Article 50 and stopped the Brexit process.
MPs had been due to debate the WAB over Wednesday and Thursday, but will now return to discussing the contents of the Queen’s Speech – which put forward the government’s domestic agenda for the new session of Parliament.