I start with an apology. What follows is grouped around three of the most irritating phrases in the English language: “I told you so”, “I would not have started from here”, and – a newcomer – “Nothing has changed”. 

Let me start with “I told you so”. 

Exactly three months ago, I warned that if the Government’s deal was defeated, the Government would win a vote of confidence, the EU would refuse to make any meaningful concessions on the backstop, Parliament would block no deal, and we would land up in a constitutional crisis, fuelling economic uncertainty, and putting in doubt whether the UK would leave the EU.

Now the reasons for this chaos are clear. 

Lack of honesty from the start about the choices we face. 

No clarity as to what is more important – trade or sovereignty. 

The Government losing its Parliamentary majority. 

And failure to prepare for no deal – despite saying that no deal is better than a bad deal. 

And on that last point: last month the Government published a report on its preparedness for no deal. 

It stated this: “In December 2018, the Government took a decision to make preparations for a no deal exit the principal operational focus within Government”.

December 2018? Just four months before we leave? 

That should have happened back in January 2017, when the Prime Minister said “no-deal is better than a bad deal”. The Government should have gone into overdrive then, to ensure that the UK was ready to leave without a deal. 

 It didn’t, and look at the result

A third of the most critical projects for no deal are not on track.

Just 6 of the 40 EU trade deals have been grandfathered

Just 15% of the 240,000 businesses that trade with the EU only have signed up for an Economic Operator Registration and Identification number – which, to quote the Government’s report – “greatly increases the probability of disruption”. 

Then there was the dress rehearsal of the lorry traffic jam in Kent – described by the Road Haulage association as “too little, too late”. 

And, of course, the fiasco of giving a ferry contract to a company which has no ships.

It’s a sorry episode which reads like a cross between Dad’s Army – Don’t Panic, Captain Mainwaring; Blackadder – “I have a cunning plan;  and “Carry On, Brexit”.

It might be amusing but for the fact the stakes could not be higher.

So- I would not have started from here.

Now let me turn to my third phrase: “nothing has changed”. 

There has been no material change to the Withdrawal Agreement nor the Political Declaration. If we leave, we will still be walking the gangplank into thin air. And yethowever dire the deal is, the consequences of rejecting it still remain even worse. 

But since January, two things have changed. 

First, if Parliament rejects the deal, it will be given the chance to vote to extend the negotiations.

This would be an admission of failure by Parliament that it cannot fulfil its purpose – to decide and legislate for our country’s future. 

Worse, it will throw us into Brexit limbo – which no doubt will be christened Brimbo – fuelling uncertainty and throwing Brexit into doubt. 

How long will the extension be? What if Parliament votes for six months, but the EU says it must 21 months – or vice versa: do we agree with the EU?  And – more importantly – what is the purpose of an extension? What is going to change? And if, at the end of 6 months, or 9 months, or 21 months, Parliament still cannot agree, what then?

Some hope the extra time might give us time to prepare more effectively for no deal. 

But Parliament, as I said, will remain opposed to no deal – unless we have a General Election that creates a majority in Parliament that supports no deal.

Others see an extension as their chance to have a referendum. That could not be delivered by a Conservative Government, so that too would require a general election. 

So, to repeat what I have said before: I voted Remain, but I believe we must honour the result of the referendum and leave the EU, with a deal, as soon as possible.

Our nation’s future cannot continue to twist in the wind.

If Parliament rejects the deal, to me there are only two options if we are to avoid Brexit limbo.

Either the Prime Minister ditches her red linesand seeks Parliamentary cross-party consensus as to the future relationship between the EU and the UK.

Or she makes a vote on her deal a vote of confidence. 

Both options may split the Conservative Party. Both may lead to a General Election. 

But the democratic imperative is to deliver on the wishes of 17.4 million people who voted to leave. 

IParliament cannot decide on what is best; or if the Prime Minister cannot convince Parliament to support her policy, and if she refuses to compromise, it is time for a new Parliament. 

George Bridges MP is a former Brexit minister