Delay, delay and more delay…. High Noon next week – latest!

So where are we?  On Monday morning, things were looking up for the prospects of  Theresa May at least getting through the latest most momentous week in British politics since King Billy landed at Brixham ( I made the last bit up). By the afternoon, the rot had set in. On Monday evening, Mrs May took even cabinet ministers by surprise  and  laid her authority on the line at eleventh hour .  Rather than  risk fatal  rejection directly, she did the next best thing. She pleaded with her warring Conservative MPs  to back the Brady amendment instructing her to return to Brussels and negotiate “ alternative arrangements” to the backstop.

It looks as if she failed.

The bleak  judgement is that with hardline Brexiteers  rejecting her appeal and insisting this is too vague to support, she will lose the vote. The EU seem to have decided already that she isn’t worth saving.   Time is running out fast for her strategy of playing her cards so close to her chest.

“What do you want, prime minster, ” Boris shouted her, reports the Mail. ”     To cheers from loyalist MPs, May reportedly responded ‘We won’t know unless you support us Boris’ and ‘I am happy to battle away Boris – get behind me and we’ll do it together.”

Do what together, Theresa?  The problem in a nutshell. The EU don’t know either. Does she?

In theory the prospects of the Cooper amendment passing must be rising, for Parliament to take control of the agenda in a week’s time and delay EU withdrawal for months in anticipation of Mrs May returning empty handed, her premiership in tatters.

But Corbyn loyalists refuse to commit the party to Yvette Cooper’s amendment even at this late hour, although they still might do so if the Article 50 extension is reduced from the suggested nine months.

So where does Mrs May go next, if not out the door of No 10 for the last time?  The Sun reports

A Cabinet source who has sat in meetings with the PM and ministers over the last week told The Sun: “The PM has made quite clear that she’s not going to go for no deal.”

Another senior Tory told The Sun that Remainer ministers have succeeded in influencing the PM to privately oppose a No Deal Brexit.

Amber Rudd is among a string of ministers who have threatened to quit so they can vote in favour of ruling out no deal. But in highly significant remarks Mr Lidington urged them to hold fire – saying they would get another chance to vote against a no deal Brexit next month. Mr Lidington wrote in the Observer: “If Parliament wishes to avoid no deal, I have no doubt it will find ways to express a view in the coming weeks.

ITV’s Robert Peston’s analysis is highly personal as usual – with a twist ..

I have given up trying to understand Theresa May.

I used to think she was the most methodical and risk-averse of politicians.

But on Monday night she threw the dice up in the air – or perhaps, to use George Osborne’s analogy, pointed the loaded revolver at herself.

She is whipping for Sir Graham Brady’s amendment that calls on her to rip up the backstop and replace it with unspecified alternative arrangements to keep open the border on the island of Ireland.

May is doing that to prove to the EU that if it dumps the backstop, her Brexit plan might at the last be ratified by MPs – and yet she knows quite what a long shot that is, and how desperate some would say she seems.

So those close to May are already conceding to me that they expect her to lose on the Brady amendment, but that would be OK so long as the margin of defeat were not too great – because just maybe she would then be able to persuade the EU that Labour MPs are biddable with offers to preserve workers’ rights and environmental protections, and (again) just maybe the backing of these Corbyn refuseniks would see her reworked deal over the line.

This feels like Olympic-level straw-clutching.

More problematic still for the PM, and as she admitted to her backbench MPs at the 1922 meeting on Monday evening, she has no properly worked-out alternative to the backstop to offer to the EU.

So perhaps 40 Tory MPs may both obey the prime minister in voting for a Brady amendment in which they have little confidence, and then disobey her by voting for the Cooper/Boles amendment that would force the PM to sue the EU to delay Brexit day.

Weeks, months, a year? How should we use the time?

Former PM Gordon Brown is rare among British politicians in favouring constitutional reform through public consultation – in this case on the Irish model.  His suggestion is worthy of northern nationalists participation too, in the jurisdiction that actually affects their lives,  if they can tear themselves away from imaging Irish unity in the meantime. Writing  in the FT, Gordon begins with a nice touch of historical perspective  

At decisive moments in UK history, such leadership — in 1846 over repealing the Corn Laws, in 1832, 1867 and again in 1884 over extending the franchise, and in 1922 over Irish independence— eventually resolved what seemed to be irreconcilable differences; and in two world wars Lloyd George and Winston Churchill each turned the tide by similar strokes of genius against the odds. Statecraft at this level would have transformed the whole history of Brexit and contrasts with the sorry misadventure the UK’s debate over leaving the EU has become.

Times as desperate as these require the kind of bold innovative thinking that shaped effective responses to crises in the past. We can make a fresh start on Tuesday, and avoid the disaster of a no deal, by extending Article 50 to allow an honest reconsideration. Parliament and the people must level with one another about the detailed costs and benefits of EU membership and all sides must begin to recognise reality. Taking the next year to look at the facts would be an obvious first step. If the British people were given trustworthy information through public hearings on immigration, sovereignty, our lost manufacturing base and the other concerns that influenced the Brexit vote, I believe they would be more open to fresh thinking than the government that rules over them. Citizens national assemblies have been held around the world, with recent success in Ireland in advance of its abortion referendum. Similar hearings could begin to rebuild the UK’s fractured unity. A renegotiation of our relationship with the EU should follow. In 13 years of often intense bargaining with Brussels on issues as contentious as our opposition to tax harmonisation and a federal constitution, I found that a good case can change minds. Both Leavers and Remainers should welcome a new process that could break the stalemate and heal the country’s now bitter and toxic divisions. A nationwide consultation that deals with the causes of Brexit would counter allegations that the will of the people is being ignored and betrayed.

But in this febrile atmosphere, I doubt if many people are listening to this piece of elder statesmanship.