A good Brexit deal is within grasp but MPs risk throwing that away in the hope that by leaving with No Deal, we might be able to improve our position. That’s a huge gamble. It’s time we took some deep breaths and went back to look at what’s actually on the table.

Theresa May’s Brexit deal remains the only actual deal on the table. A “Managed No Deal” or the Malthouse Compromise (or whatever else) are just ideas– not anything the EU has agreed to or shown any real interest in. I am yet to meet a single EU or European figure saying otherwise.

Our entire public narrative of the deal was shaped by the resignation of key ministers – above all by Dominic Raab. I understand why Raab resigned. Theresa May cut him out of the negotiations and did not give him the chance to push for the backstop exit mechanism he believed he could secure. But because he and others resigned, the public narrative became fixed that the deal was dire. Yet the more I look at it, the more convinced I am that it is actually quite good.

The single biggest flaw is of course with the backstop. But even there, we are thinking about it the wrong way. Theresa May’s position is based on avoiding the backstop at all costs. That’s ludicrous. Even if getting to the backstop is the last thing you want to do, telling your negotiating partner you’d do anything to stop getting there means they have you over a barrel.

And is the backstop actually so bad anyway? Let’s look at what it would actually mean if we got there in early 2021.

In the backstop we can:

– end free movement so we can choose to welcome the best, brightest and most hard-working to contribute to our country;

– control our laws on services (which make up 80% of our economy) – even Mark Carney thinks we can’t be a ‘rule-taker’ on financial services;

– scrap the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy, choosing who can fish in our waters;

– not have to pay a penny into the EU’s budget – forget £350 million a week, this is £0;

– veto new EU goods and food laws from applying (anywhere) in the UK;

– sign and implement new services trade deals with third countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland;

– get tariff and quota-free access to the EU;

– say no to new EU rules covering labour and environmental law;

– agree the rollover of the EU’s existing trade deals, with major markets including Canada, South Korea and Japan, while negotiating extra agreements on services, investor protection and recognition of qualifications;

– reject any EU moves to a common asylum policy or the so-called EU army;

– escape the EU’s political project and commitments to ever closer union;

– put Daniel Hannan and Nigel Farage out of a job;

– resist the EU forcing us to open our markets to new trade deals (without our say);

– ensure an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic;

– use Northern Ireland’s place as a gateway to the EU as our advantage, by encouraging companies to invest there;

– negotiate aviation agreements to help lower ticket prices;

– take the time needed to build a national consensus on the right, sustainable, long-term arrangement with the EU.

I’m not pretending the deal is perfect. It ain’t (and I have written about the backstop’s issues elsewhere). Geoffrey Cox is rightly trying to sharpen our ability to exit the backstop and get clearer assurances for Northern Ireland including on its interaction with Good Friday Agreement.

But critics of deal are often blind to its benefits and unrealistic about the alternatives actually possible at this point in time.

I don’t see how Government could possibly hold together in the event of No Deal. And as Lyndon B. Johnson said, the first rule of politics is the ability to count.

There is no majority for No Deal. So forcing a No Deal (even if you could) would probably result in either a General Election with Theresa May in charge (which we can guess about 117 Tory MPs would not want to see) or a sort of messy Government of national unity – you could call it a “Coalition of Chaos” if you wanted to be all David Cameron.

If someone can explain how a Government could possibly hold together to make a success of No Deal with no working majority to speak of, please let me know. Delivering a successful No Deal, even if you think that’s possible, is out of reach with no majority.

But “No Deal is better than a bad deal” was in the manifesto, as we are told again and again. Yes. But the Government obviously doesn’t think it’s a bad deal. They think it’s a good deal (given the options at this point) and that’s why they agreed it!

If EU hadn’t moved on a UK-wide customs backstop, risking a hard customs border down Irish Sea, then I would have denounced the deal and I suspect Government would have too. As Theresa May said – no Prime Minister could have accepted that. But the EU did move (even if almost no one here noticed).

The manifesto didn’t say: reject every deal unless it is perfect. Even if it did, I still don’t get how you deliver a workable No Deal with no majority. How do you pass key legislation with so many MPs implacably opposed? Without a majority you can’t “manage” No Deal and even active proponents of No Deal accept it would be a big national challenge.

Every time I say anything positive about the deal I get bombarded with tweets from #StandUp4Brexit or #GoWTO people saying the deal can’t get any worse. That’s absurd. If you don’t like this deal try a softer deal in the Single Market – not ending free movement and what some would see as rule-taking on regulations covering most of our economy.

It’s time for everyone to take deep breaths and start from first principles.

Yes, you wouldn’t have started here.

Yes, we have made loads of mistakes in negotiations.

Yes, the Prime Minister can’t explain her own flagship policy properly.

But if you look calmly is it actually so bad?

The main downside to the deal is the lack of freedom to do our own comprehensive trade deals and control our trade policy. I want to have that in medium-term. I don’t think the UK could sustainably be in a long-term customs union with the EU with no say over trade. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense to spend some time in a customs union (to protect trade) and redesign our approach to customs – moving checks away from border, automating them, applying technology and other agreements to help resolve the Irish border issue.

Even on trade so much thinking is backwards. Yes, I want ultimately to leave the customs union so we can control our trade policy. But No Deal would leave us with no trade deal with our biggest market. If you’re determined to “go WTO” why do you think trade deals are important?

We are tantalising close. Passions are running high. Opinions are polarising not coming together. But it’s not too late to secure a good Brexit.