London - Whether or not the British parliament legislates to block a no-deal Brexit, a reluctant Boris Johnson would still have to make any request to EU leaders to delay the divorce.
And if the British leader is forced to postpone Brexit for a third time, beyond the current October 31 deadline, the European Council of 27 national leaders must agree.
- Would Europe approve a delay? -
Brussels is tiring of the Brexit drama but does not want to share blame for the economic damage it is feared a no-deal departure would bring.
Most EU officials and observers expect the 27 would nod though another delay if it was clear it was to allow Britain to vote again -- whether in a general election or a Brexit referendum.
"A delay for delay's sake? No. If it's to go round in circles, no," a European diplomat told AFP.
"If it flows from a new political situation, such as elections, we could study a delay. It would have to be agreed unanimously, but yes, I think it would be allowed."
Brexit: key dates in 2019
The last time Britain requested a delay to its EU withdrawal, under former prime minister Theresa May in April, France's President Emmanuel Macron was publicly reluctant to agree.
Paris did fall in with its partners and agree to delay Brexit until the end of October. But French European Affairs Minister said Thursday another postponement would not be automatic.
"When I hear the British saying 'Give us three months more and we will solve the problem', we can see that another six months would not solve the problem, nor another three months," Amelie de Montchalin said.
"They have to be able to tell us what they want," she told France's Radio Classique.
In his first speech as British PM, Boris Johnson vowed no more Brexit delays
- Will Britain ask for a delay? -
Johnson insists he does not want to delay Brexit and will lead his country out of Europe "do or die" on October 31, but he may not be the master of Britain's fate.
British MPs have seized control of the parliamentary agenda and are trying to push though legislation to block a no-deal Brexit before Johnson can "prorogue" -- suspend -- the House.
In response, the Conservative premier has demanded a general election before an October 17 EU summit.
"If there are elections on October 15, the question of an extension will be decided at the summit," Eric Maurice of the Robert Schuman foundation in Brussels told AFP.
"By then we'll know the composition of the British parliament and we'll know how large and what colour of a majority the prime minister has in case he or she needs to ratify a withdrawal agreement."
- Is Johnson even negotiating a deal? -
Johnson insists he wants a new withdrawal agreement and is ready to wield the threat of a no-deal departure to focus EU minds.
But many in Brussels and in EU capitals distrust him, believing he is running down the clock while refusing to suggest ways to revise the moribund accord negotiated by May.
"For all the PM's bluster about getting a deal, there are no real negotiations going on in Brussels, despite the EU's door remaining wide open," said Philippe Lamberts, an MEP in the European Parliament's Brexit steering group.
"It's quite clear that Johnson's disingenuous strategy is designed to push the UK off a no-deal cliff edge and to cement his own position regardless of the costs to the British people," the Greens group leader said.
Top officials, speaking privately, are frustrated that the debate in London over who would be the better PM to negotiate a deal fails to engage with how EU decisions are made.
"Leaders have never negotiated directly with the UK PM on Brexit... UK is not even present when the EU27 Leaders discuss Brexit," one said, suggesting a delay would be necessary.
EU leaders have delegated European Commission negotiator Michel Barnier to negotiate with London and bring any revised accord to a European Council summit for approval.
"The assumption that in a space of a few days a proposal could be made, negotiated, endorsed by the summit, and ratified by EP and UK Parliament by end-October seems like a rather heroic assumption, to say the least," an EU official said.
Post-Brexit trade options for the UK
- Would Corbyn be able to get a deal? -
If the British political impasse is resolved by a general election, and the opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn comes to power, would he be able to agree the terms of Brexit? Brussels is sceptical he will.
"We're not fearful of his policies, we're fearful of a very wobbly coalition that can't agree amongst themselves what they want from Brexit," one European diplomat told AFP.
"A Corbyn government is not something we're afraid of. We're afraid of underestimating the threat of a no-deal on both sides of the Channel."
By Dave Clark