This week saw the government defeated by the biggest margin ever for a sitting government, with a majority of 230 voting against the prime minister's deal. A day later she comfortably survived a vote of no-confidence with the support of her backbenches and the DUP. Since then her task has been to reach out to her parliamentary colleagues to salvage a plan B that can be put to the Commons on Monday. So far the outlook looks bleak.
'The door is open'
Theresa May is currently doing her best impression of someone who is comfortable playing with others. The reality is she did not progress as far as she has in her political career by cultivating a reputation for collaboration and conflict resolution. The May brand is all about stubborn decisiveness and bludgeoning opponents with simple logical-sounding assertions over and over again until the other side thinks life would be better if they just dropped it and moved on.
Her two key counterparts in the Commons, Jeremy Corbyn and Arlene Foster, are not known for their love of compromises either. So the situation as it stands is that a persistently intransigent prime minister must convince a group of other persistently intransigent politicians to come on side to pass a piece of legislation, approximate agreement on the core tenets of which has already been demonstrated as impossible through party-backed statements from all sides.
Parliament abhors a vacuum
Recognising the prime minister's most predictable predicament, a group of MPs have been planning to launch their own attempt to wrest the decision from No 10 and seek a vote on a 'Norway plus' / 'Common market 2.0' option.
Under this scheme the UK and EU change the political declaration to state that the UK intends to enter the European Economic Area and join the EFTA pillar. This plan, principally the brainchild of former minister Nick Boles MP and supported by several influential Labour backbenchers, would take the UK out of the Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
The arrangement also comes with an "emergency brake" on free movement that the UK can trigger under special circumstances but the brake is extremely unlikely to ever be deployable in reality. The three key drawbacks are that it comes with free movement, would not allow the UK to pursue its own independent trade deals and the EFTA court will look and feel too much like the ECJ for those who are unhappy with the current jurisdictional arrangements.
It was formally proven to be mathematically impossible to square a circle in 1882 but unfortunately politicians do not typically study theoretical mathematics at university and so the concept of any two concepts being entirely irreconcilable is often found to be lost on them. The arithmetical shock experienced by the prime minister on Tuesday has apparently failed to improve her and many of her colleagues' grip on this reality.
With there being no plan on any table that could be confidently put to the House to be voted through by a majority, and no-deal being something that a clear majority of MPs are intent on preventing, the only real options left are to delay Article 50, call a general election or call a second referendum. The first option requires the least amount of institutional decisiveness - hence it is now the likeliest option. On the plus side this does mean at least six more months of Brexit update emails.