To understand the nature of the position we are in, there are two things that need to be appreciated.
The first is that Theresa May does not want the so-called hard Brexit that is associated with her. If we crashed out of the European Union without a deal, it would represent failure to her. The reason she says that “no deal is better than a bad deal” is because she wants a deal. Her attitude is that, just as there is no point paying for Trident and then saying you would never use it, you should not unilaterally disarm before talks.
It was because she believed it would be a bumpy ride on the way to a negotiated settlement that she needed a proper majority in parliament. Without one, brinkmanship with negotiating partners would not be credible. And she felt she did not have one.
Now she certainly does not. Indeed, it’s far worse than that: she would be attempting to persuade the EU to agree a deal that they would be able to see would not get through parliament.
The main reason it would not is that Labour has designed its position to allow it to vote down virtually everything. Its stance is a classic of opposition policy-making. Labour insists any deal must deliver leaving the single market while guaranteeing all the benefits of the single market; it must put jobs first, protect workers’ rights and end free movement. Without a deal like this they would not be in favour of leaving — but they want to emphasise that they are indeed in favour of leaving.
There is basically nothing remotely achievable that they can’t oppose. You can call this shrewd, pragmatic, muddled, infuriating, understandable, irresponsible, reasonable in the circumstances — you can call it what you like. It is what it is.
Which leaves us up the creek without a paddle. Cameron with his referendum has a lot to answer for ...