If you walk up into the Welsh hills, four hours’ drive from the political storms of Westminster, there is the noisy sound of spring as usual — throngs of lambs bleating for their mothers as they tear across the fields. Across Britain, about 17 million lambs are born every year.

But if Britain crashes out of the European Union without a deal, nearly half of them might have to be slaughtered for lack of an export market, farmers have warned. The National Farmers Union has called for the government to offer massive financial compensation to avoid that.

A choice between huge numbers of dead lambs and huge payouts to sheep farmers is just one example of the turmoil that a no-deal Brexit could bring. This week, which has been chaotic in British politics even by recent standards, has made that just a bit less likely. It is the week that Remainers invoked the horror of a no-deal Brexit to grab back some control over a Parliament still unable to decide what it wants. But it was also the week the country saw just how badly the debate is straining its political system.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Theresa May failed in her second attempt to win Parliament's support for the deal she has struck with the European Union. This time, it was defeated by a margin of "only" 149 votes in the 650-seat House of Commons, compared with the 230-vote defeat in January. On Wednesday, members of Parliament voted to bar the government from taking Britain out of the E.U. with no deal at any point.

Yet as the prime minister pointed out wearily after the vote, her voice failing, it is not under Britain’s control whether it leaves without a deal on March 29, the date derived from the Article 50 procedure for exit. MPs can block the no-deal option only by backing her deal, choosing another one or voting for an extension. But an extension — the subject of a vote on Thursday — depends on the European Union’s agreement, and the 27 other members are not sympathetic. “Why would we extend these discussions?” Michel Barnier, the E.U.'s chief negotiator, said Wednesday morning. “The discussion on Article 50, that is done and dusted. We have the withdrawal agreement, it is there.” Britain would have to come up with a plan to secure “a constructive majority” in Parliament before the E.U. could think it worthwhile having more talks, he said.

Parliament's renewed rebuff to the prime minister leaves Britain without a plan with only two weeks to go. As E.U. officials pointed out, this week's events still leave the no-deal option as a possibility, despite the majority against it in the House of Commons. If neither Britain nor the E.U. changes its position, Brexit would simply happen on March 29 without a deal. E.U. planning for this has become more energetic. At least in the short run, it is no longer unthinkable, E.U. officials have made clear.

But the week has also been a setback for the Brexit camp. It is facing a choice between backing May's deal or risking a long extension of the process, in which the House of Commons might muster support for an even softer version of Brexit. May, who may well try to bring her deal back to Parliament for a third vote, clearly hopes to squeeze support out of more MPs by confronting them with this unpalatable choice.

On the other end of the political spectrum, those wanting a second referendum (believing that it might well produce a majority for Remain this time) reckon that if an extension is granted, they also have a chance. But although many of these are in the opposition Labour Party, its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has repeatedly ducked his commitment to them to back a new referendum. His priority remains trying to secure a general election. Opinion polls show the Conservatives with a steady lead, but Labour hopes that it would repeat the surge of support it saw in the 2017 election, driven by exasperation with the government's handling of Brexit.

For all this plotting, all options remain in play, from no-deal to a second referendum, even including the prime minister's rejected deal. No majority has yet emerged for any one of these (although there is, we now know, a majority against no-deal).

Until some options are forced off the table, that is likely to stay the case. How is this impasse broken?

The E.U. might itself take one option off the table, by refusing an extension or granting only a short one. MPs might also be able to seize control of the process and hold nonbinding votes, trying to establish where a majority might lie.

But in the meantime, the machinery of Parliament is breaking down. Parliament, in the British system of government, depends on political parties acting as coherent blocs, able to forge agreement and get votes through. Yet the two main parties have already split and might break up even more.

If the chaos continues, a general election becomes more likely. It would shake up the membership of Parliament. It might even lead to a majority government. When it comes down to it, elections, not referendums, are how Britain has traditionally given choice back to the people. And the Welsh hill farmers are not alone in the predicament of how to live life as normal with such uncertainty hanging over every single day.

Bronwen Maddox is the director of the Institute for Government, a London think tank.