Theresa May’s crushing defeat in the House of Commons this week over her plan for Britain to leave the European Union was actually a great victory for her, provided that you make a simple assumption: that she and her colleagues never wanted Britain to leave the EU in the first place.
A majority of the British legislature is, and always was, opposed to Brexit. Those legislators who agitated most vociferously for it declined, when the time came, to carry out the policy, leaving it to a woman already well known for her political maladroitness.
Her appearance of negotiating with the EU was merely elaborate shadow-play. She never intended to produce the complete break that just over half the electorate — but not the political class — wanted.
The present impasse will probably lead to Britain never leaving the union. Except for a hard core of about a fifth of Parliament, all the other legislators are adamantly opposed to Britain leaving the EU without a deal; and the Union, knowing this, has no reason to negotiate further.
But the legislators will not agree to the deal as negotiated, as they have now demonstrated. They want a second referendum, in the hope that the result of the first will be reversed. (And if it is, there will never be a third.)
An extension to Britain’s departure will be granted only if Britain has a concrete proposal to offer — and the only such offer it can make is to hold the second referendum.