It has been a recurring theme of mine that we could be sleepwalking to disaster on a hard Brexit. Despite repeated statements from centrist politicians across the Party divide that there is no majority for in the House of Commons for such an outcome, it remained and remains the fact that this is what is currently enshrined in Primary Legislation and is scheduled to happen unless contrary legislation is passed at some time before 29th March.
And I have pointed out repeatedly that it is exceptionally difficult for Members of Parliament to pass Primary Legislation without the co-operation of the Government. For the Government, even without a majority, normally controls the business that Parliament can conduct.
Against that background, while Parliament can pass all sorts of motions, even wrecking amendments tagged on to different legislation, unless they can gain control of the "levers of power", the statutory clock keeps ticking. And, unless there was a different Government, either as a result of a General Election or as a result of a political earthquake leading to an (at least temporary) Government of National Unity, (neither of which seemed very likely), I couldn't see how that would change.
And, last week, both of these options essentially disappeared. For having ruled out, for the moment, endorsing this Government's deal on Tuesday past, the following day they, in one vote, also effectively ruled out the possibility both of a General Election or of a different Government being formed from within the current Parliament.
Which on the face of it made things look even bleaker. We were continuing down the track to a point where it would indeed be "This deal or no deal" and it certainly could not be ruled out that the determination of nobody to lose face would end up with the fifty or so hard Brexiteers on the Tory back benches aligning with the twenty or so hard Brexiteers on the Labour front benches to carry their way against the more than five hundred of their colleagues otherwise minded.
But, I may have spoken to soon. For something else happened last week. A group of like minded MPs did finally come up with a plan to stop (at least for the moment) a hard Brexit, without having Government support.
The plan is in two parts. Firstly, masterminded by Dominic Grieve, it involves voting to change the standing orders of the House so that, temporarily at least, Government business no longer automatically takes priority and that proposed legislation with a certified advance level of support (the suggestion is 300 MPs) should be found Parliamentary time to proceed. This appears likely to pass.
The second bit is however that legislation. The European Union (Withdrawal) (No.3) Bill, likely to be introduced by Yvette Cooper with the support of the Tory Remainers, Liberal Democrats and Nationalist Parties.
This does two things. Firstly, it changes the Exit Day contained in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 from 29th March to 31st December. Secondly, it instructs the Government to seek an extension of the Article 50 process to align with that date.
I am sure Corbyn won't want to vote for this but it is difficult to see how he could justify not doing so and thus this is also likely to pass. Obviously, it also has to pass the Lords, where the Government might try to deny it time but there is a big remainer majority there so I think that could be overcome. Finally, assuming it becomes law, the Government might still refuse to act as instructed I think that an unlikely response, particularly as, by then, it would be too late to have a General Election before 29th March.
So we can all then breathe a temporary sigh of relief.
BUT, this still does not solve the problem of where this ultimately ends up.
So I want to move on to that and to the strategic problem of those opposed to a hard Brexit. They are split more or less down the middle on what they want instead.
On the one hand there are those who want a second referendum. Now, this is all very well but there are simply not enough of them. Last week, 71 Labour MPs signed a letter to Jeremy Corbyn calling for this to become Labour policy. That is, with respect, considerably less than a third of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Sure, there are some front benchers who couldn't sign and, we are told, a few other back benchers who didn't sign for "logistical" reasons (whatever that means) but nobody seriously suggests that would get us to anything like half of Labour's Westminster representatives. Why? Setting to one side the handful of Brexit true believers, three reasons. Firstly, some, no matter how disappointed they might be with the June 2016 vote, believe it wrong in principle and dangerous to our democracy to try and reverse it, particularly without even an election mandate to that effect. Secondly, others fear what such an attempt might mean for the longer term electoral fortunes of the Labour Party in leave voting areas. Thirdly, others still think that we would just lose again, only this time with much less scope to argue that our defeat meant anything but the hardest of Brexits. Obviously, there is a degree of overlap but that there is a combined PLP majority for the conclusion that a second referendum is not the answer, isn't really in dispute. And,to be fair to Corbyn, this is a dilemma that would face any Labour leader. To that extent his personal euroscepticism is largely irrelevant.
But then let us look at the other side of the coin. If there is not going to be another referendum, what do we want instead? Let's start by saying this. For resigned leavers ("wish we weren't leaving but we are"), there is actually nothing very much wrong with Mrs May's deal. The legally binding bit does not deal at all with our future relationship at all, excepting the backstop bit which, in leaving us in regulatory alignment with the EU potentially in perpetuity, understandably annoys the ERG, but, since we want to remain in that regulatory alignment anyway, should hardly bother us. Sure it's not as good a still being in the EU but it doesn't even rule out that being the long term conclusion of being "rule takers not rule makers". It just gets us out in an orderly manner. As for the "political declaration" if there is a real criticism it is in its vagueness. But it is only a political declaration. It cannot prevent a future British Government from wanting relations between the EU and the UK to develop in a different way, whether that Government is lead by Boris Johnson or Anna Soubry or even (more improbably) Jeremy Corbyn. So, in the end, as I have said since I started writing about this back in October, all logic points ultimately to Parliament approving something that, if it is not Mrs May's deal, certainly looks very much like it. If you see Keir Starmer interviewed in detail on this, he struggles to say what is wrong with the Agreement (as opposed to the political declaration) and yet, in a legally binding sense, we are only voting on the former.
The question ultimately is who holds out against that? The ERG and DUP certainly but I fear the second vote crew might themselves be becoming as much of an obstacle, particularly if Corbyn continues to make an unholy alliance with them in voting, to the death, against Brexit and in favour of something indefinably "better".
I've said from the start that ultimately Labour votes will decide this. For good or ill. But at least we might now have a bit more time to decide.