LONDON — This week, as two members of Parliament interrupted a debate on Brexit to rib each other about the elite boarding schools they attended four decades ago, 23-year-old Eve Alcock looked on with deep disgust.
The whole world of Britain’s Parliament — its effete codes of conduct, its arcane and stilted language, its reunions of Oxbridge school chums — seemed impossibly remote from the real, unfolding national crisis of Brexit, the process of extricating the country from the European Union.
“We’re in the middle of a national emergency, and you have schoolboys squabbling about who went to the best school in the House of Commons,” she said. “It’s almost as if they are operating in this complete alternate reality.”
Over the past weeks, as factions within the British government have grappled for control over the country’s exit from the bloc, the mood among voters has become dark.
Those Britons who wished to remain are reminded, daily, that a risky and momentous national change is being initiated against their will and judgment. More striking is the deep cynicism among those who voted to leave, the group that Prime Minister Theresa May is trying to satisfy. They are now equally bitter and disillusioned, as the government’s paralysis has called into question whether Britain will ever leave.
Parliament’s rejection of Mrs. May’s withdrawal plan on Friday — for the third time — means the turbulence will continue.
In interviews, many Britons expressed despair over the inability of the political system to produce a compromise. No one feels that the government has represented their interests. No one is satisfied. No one is hopeful.
It has amounted to a hollowing out of confidence in democracy itself.
“I don’t think the central institutions of government have been discredited like this in the postwar period,” said William Davies, who teaches political economy at Goldsmiths, University of London.
“There’s a fin-de-siècle sense that modern British politics has run out of road,” said Mr. Davies, author of “Nervous States: How Feeling Took Over the World.” “Maybe the best thing to come out of this is the recognition that the political elites — people just want them to get off the stage. I don’t know who they want to replace them. But there’s a sense that a reboot would be something people would be in favor of.”
It was barely seven summers ago that Britain presented itself to the world as a confident, outward-looking, post-imperial country. The opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics — featuring a flock of sheep, a snippet of the Sex Pistols’ music and a skit about a skydiving Queen Elizabeth — suggested a country unburdened by longing for its more orderly, homogeneous past.
It’s hard to conceive of that now. The referendum question has divided Britain into warring tribes, unable to settle on any shared vision of the future. An ancient, robust democracy is groaning under the weight of conflicting demands — on the executive, to carry out the will of the people; and on the members of Parliament, to follow their conscience and to act in what they believe to be the people’s interest.
In such a situation, the country might have united in its resentment of the European Union, which had vowed to make Britain’s withdrawal painful. But that has not happened. Britons are blaming their own leaders.
“I think people have totally lost confidence in democracy, in British democracy and the way it’s run,” said Tommy Turner, 32, a firefighter. He was perched on a stool at the Hare & Hounds, a working-class pub in Surrey, where nearly everyone voted to leave the European Union. Among his friends, he said, he sensed a profound sense of betrayal that Britain was not exiting on March 29, as promised.
“You’ve got egotistical people in politics, and they want to follow their own agenda,” he said. “They don’t want to follow what the people have voted for.” Asked how he felt about the approaching Brexit deadline, Mr. Turner said, “worried.”
“We’re in the last hour,” he said. “I’m wondering: What does more damage? Leaving without a deal? Or the total annihilation of faith in democracy?”
Polling has borne out his worry. Britons’ assessment of their leaders is scathing, with 81 percent saying that Britain has handled Brexit badly, and 7 percent saying it has handled it well, according to data released recently by NatCen Social Research, an independent agency. (Two years ago, the numbers were 41 percent negative and 29 percent positive.)
Particularly drastic, researchers said, is the souring of Leave voters in the past six months, as Mrs. May concluded her negotiations on the withdrawal agreement and shared the terms of departure with the country. Expectations that Brexit would have concrete effects — by lifting the economy or slowing immigration — have diminished sharply, the data show.
Neil Bligh, 45, who sat by Mr. Turner at the Hare & Hounds, could dimly recall the buzz of triumph he felt in 2016, when he discovered that his side had won. But that feeling has long since dissipated, replaced by a gathering sense of gloom and mistrust as the promised reward of a free-trading Britain recedes further and further.
“Now, it’s like an ache,” he said. “That’s the best way to describe Brexit, as the remnant of a hangover. It’s just always there. A lot of people, if they could go back and make it all not happen, they would.”
The bartender, Chauntelle Hartley, known by her clientele as “Squid,” said the process was so maddening that she could no longer focus on it for long periods.
“It was on the telly earlier, and I watched ‘Friends’ on my phone,” she said. “I want to listen to it; I realized that it was on. But I think I only made it 40 seconds.”
Views on Brexit were almost diametrically opposed at The Highbury Barn, a pub in North London that offers haddock from the fishmonger across the street and provides pans of water for visiting dogs. In this neighborhood, Islington North, in the constituency of the opposition Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, the number of signatories on a petition asking the government to revoke Article 50, the part of the European Union treaty that lays out the terms of Britain’s exit, reached one-quarter of the population.
But people here took an equally dismal view of the government’s performance.
Aidan Hughes, 58, who works in finance, was waiting for a cab in the back of the bar.
“What we’re seeing is that the process the government’s involved in has been effectively hijacked by an even smaller segment of the ruling government, the right-wing element of the party,” he said. He blamed the first-past-the-post voting system, which tends to increase polarization between two large parties and exaggerate geographical divides, setting up stark conflict between sections of society.
He said it was time for Britain to move toward a system of proportional representation, common to democracies that evolved later than Britain’s, which allows smaller parties to enter Parliament more easily.
“We would then have people with different views coming together to compromise, to find a way forward,” he said. “Whereas whoever wins an election now can currently push their views, irrespective of support.”
Geoff Peddie, 46, a high-school English teacher, was waiting for a friend as the evening wore on and the pub quieted down. He was angry that such a slim majority had triggered a national act of this magnitude and permanence.
“I don’t feel that I’ve been listened to, or that nearly half the population have been listened to,” he said. “The majority has essentially been pandering to the worst elements in our society.”
A sense of impotence and paralysis now colors Britain’s image abroad. This was given visual form recently when a Bulgarian diplomat posted a photo on Twitter of senior European officials in a cluster as they conferred in a corridor. No Briton was present.
“Britain is forced out of the room while other countries make decisions about its future,” said Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a research institute.
As Mrs. May stalled for time, keeping her plans tightly hidden from the public, Brexit sucked so much oxygen from the government that it left no time for anything else.
“There is a parochialization as Britain loses ambition in anything bigger than itself; it’s a shrinking of horizons and a self-obsession,” he said.
He compared it to the Suez crisis, the Egyptian nationalist uprising that signaled the end of the British and French empires.
“The thing has been humiliating; there is a sense of no one being in the cockpit,” Mr. Leonard added. “Britain was a different country after Suez, and that’s where we are now. I don’t think there is any way back if we go ahead with Brexit.”
In a landscape of pervasive gloom, Mr. Hughes, the finance worker, did see one reason for hope: That Britons, young and old, were passionately engaged, as never before, in the inner workings of their own government. Even if it was because they were so angry.
“This is starting to drag people into an interest in what’s actually happening,” he said. “Clearly it’s a total mess and it’s been handled appallingly by the government. Be that as it may, at least it’s gotten people animated in talking about these topics.”