Here we go again, debating the same arguments for the umpteenth time, for some very simple reasons which I hope we can all agree on, but are worth repeating.
Brexit is the biggest political and social challenge that this country has faced since the Second World War.
The complexity of the issues, and the enormity of what leaving the EU entails, means Brexit is a process that will take much longer than many envisaged, and some promised.
It has divided our nation from top to toe. From the Cabinet down, it has split parties, communities, families.
To leave the EU, from day one we needed to be honest about the scale of that challenge, and build a consensus as to the way ahead. The Government needed to negotiate knowing it had the support of Parliament, so that it could deliver on what it agreed in the negotiations.
Obviously, since the referendum, none of this has happened.
And the fact it has not happened is, in part, because the UK’s relationship with the European Union has been poisoning the well of Conservative party politics for decades.
And it has fallen to this Prime Minister to make the fateful choice – what matters more to our United Kingdom: trade and access to EU markets, or control and Parliamentary sovereignty?
Fear of splitting the party totally asunder as meant that, years after Brexit, we still don’t know the answer to that basic question. On Brexit, the biggest issue of the day, we do not have a government to speak of: instead we have a collection of individuals, grouped into factions. There is no collective responsibility.
And to say we have a Prime Minister would bestow on Mrs May a level of authority she clearly does not have. I have been saying for months that the Prime Minister is in office, not in power. The last week has proven that beyond doubt.
So, once again I wearily ask “where do we go from here?”
And the options are the same as we faced one thousand and six days ago.
We leave with a deal. We leave without a deal. Or we do not leave.
The final option is what Lord Adonis is calling for – to revoke Article 50. I should say that, while I totally disagree with the NL on this point, I respect and pay tribute to his tenacity and principled stand.
My view is that Parliament voted to hold the referendum. The public voted to Leave. Parliament voted to trigger Article 50. The public voted for Labour and Conservative MPs who promised to honour the result of the referendum.
But even if Parliament was to vote to revoke Article 50, I cannot see how a Conservative Government would deliver on it. To do that, we would need a general election.
Or it would require a referendum – which, as things stand, is also impossible to deliver to do without a general election.
The same applies to the next option – leaving without a deal. Ever since the last general election it’s been obvious that Parliament opposes no deal. The Government may try to ignore Parliament. But were it do to so, surely – on an issue such as this – Parliament will vote no confidence in the Government? So, no deal requires a general election.
And so we come to the final option – leaving with a deal.
The only deal on offer is the Withdrawal Agreement. That Agreement will not now change. The EU’s position is clear: take it or leave it.
In the days ahead Parliament might agree, via indicative votes, that it wishes to join a customs union or the EEA.
But even if Parliament reaches a consensus, I sense the very best that might happen is for this to be reflected in the Political Declaration, which (unlike the Withdrawal Agreement) is not legally binding. Parliament will still have to vote for the Withdrawal Agreement, and put it into law.
More to the point: if Parliament votes on a motion that the United Kingdom should join a customs union, and possibly the Single Market as well, to implement it would break Conservative Manifesto commitments, and would appear to require the support of Labour MPs.
Is the Prime Minister willing to do that?
Are she and her Cabinet willing, as I have urged before, to bridge the party divide to deliver Brexit?
Such a prospect may seem fanciful, until one remembers the point I began with – that Brexit poses the biggest political and social challenge this country has faced since it fought a world war.
Put like that, is it so peculiar to consider that we should come together, put party interests to one side, and work together to leave the EU?
At what point does the need to end the uncertainty, and leaving the EU with a common approach, trump party allegiance and manifesto commitments?
What’s clear is that, after 1,006 days, if we are to leave the European Union, we cannot, we must not, go on as we are.
So, if this Withdrawal Agreement is rejected again, if like me you believe we should leave the EU as 17.4 million voted to do, then government and parliament must build a consensus as to what we want to achieve.
And if we cannot do that, we need a new Parliament.
Even if the Withdrawal Agreement were to be passed this week, we will still need to build that consensus as to our future relationship – otherwise we will spend the foreseeable future trapped in the agony of this interminable debate, which is corroding trust in Parliament and undermining confidence in the economy.
On an issue of such enormity as our leaving the European Union, an issue which will shape our nation’s future for generations to come, a house divided cannot stand.
Lord Bridges is a former Brexit minister.