In a febrile, fractious Commons yesterday, the Government suffered three defeats in quick succession, each more crushing than the last.
The first two – relating to publication of the full legal advice surrounding the withdrawal agreement – were largely procedural. More embarrassing than truly disastrous.
Theresa May (pictured above) suffered three defeats in quick succession in the House of Commons yesterday
But the third, in the form of an amendment by arch Tory rebel Dominic Grieve, could have the effect of giving Parliament, rather than the Government, total supremacy in shaping Brexit.
In principle, this may sound admirably democratic. But in a hung Parliament, where the majority of MPs are in conflict with the will of the people and want Britain to remain in the EU, it is a recipe for chaos and betrayal.
True, this vote makes the chances of crashing out with no deal vanishingly small. But it also means that Brexit may never happen at all.
Just consider how that would shatter the integrity of our democracy and erode what’s left of public trust in our political class.
On June 23, 2016, 17.4 million people voted in the referendum to leave the EU. It was the biggest mandate in the history of the UK, and the turnout of 72 per cent was the largest since the 1992 general election.
Eight months later, the decision to trigger Article 50 – the formal mechanism for leaving – was passed in the Commons by 498 votes to 114.
Dominic Grieve (pictured above) spoke in the House of Commons yesterday
And at the 2017 general election 85 per cent of the vote went to parties who promised to honour the referendum result.
Yet now, in their vanity and arrogance, many of those very same MPs who pledged to keep the Brexit flame alive now risk extinguishing it. Could there be a worse breach of faith?
So given the anticipation of this Judas kiss, it should now be clearer than ever that the only hope of salvation is Mrs May’s deal.
While far from perfect, it satisfies the main referendum criteria – control of our borders, coastal waters and laws, an end to vast annual payments to Brussels and, ultimately, the power to forge trade deals with the wider world.
Jacob Rees-Mogg (pictured above) questioned the secretary of state regarding exiting the European Union
There is simply no alternative which can deliver the genuine and orderly departure that business and the general public so desperately crave.
Of course, the opposition parties have cynical and opportunistic motives for sabotaging the deal.
Labour and the SNP especially are interested only in destabilising the Government in the hope of forcing a general election, which they believe they can win.
One can only imagine the devastation and poverty a joint Labour/SNP government would wreak on this country, not to mention the likelihood that it would split the United Kingdom for good.
So here is the baffling question. Why are so many misguided Tories and Northern Irish unionists colluding in that baleful plot?
Don’t the Eurosceptic ‘ultras’ – Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson and the rest – realise they are in grave danger of letting all hope of Brexit slip through their fingers?
For all their purism, they must surely see that the May compromise is better than limping back to Brussels with our tail between our legs.
Jeremy Corbyn (pictured above) had previously challenged Theresa May to a head to head debate
And as for the Tory Remainers (many of whom see a ‘People’s Vote’ as the way to legitimise a return to EU membership) – why do they think a second referendum would have any more legitimacy than the first?
The people have already voted – and they voted to leave. Respect and honour that decision.
Then we come to the DUP. For all their understandable fears over the Irish backstop and its lack of time limitation, how do they think they would fare under a Corbyn-led government?
Jeremy Corbyn was the IRA’s friend and defender through years of murder and mayhem and his Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell says he ‘longs’ for a united Ireland. Is that really what the DUP wants?
So it’s time for a good dose of realism.
As Mrs May said in the House yesterday, these Brexit arguments – and the strutting, posturing and play-acting that have accompanied them – have gone on long enough and are profoundly corrosive to our political system. Life is full of compromises.
Next Tuesday, Tory rebels and the DUP have one last chance both to save Brexit and to begin the process of healing Britain’s gaping social and political wounds.
The May deal offers hope for a bright post-Brexit future – the prosperity, economic stability and security on which jobs and livelihoods depend. Yes it has flaws, but with good faith and ‘best endeavours’ on both sides, they can be ironed out in time.
Before rejecting this deal, every rebel must carefully consider the alternative – no Brexit, a shattered Tory party and the prospect of Mr Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon posing for some appalling tableau in the Downing Street rose garden.