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Peak Brexit

This week we've seen it all. In addition to the fact that parliament can't agree on what kind of Brexit it wants, if any, the PM has actually backed down, accepting a soft Brexit may be the only way forward. MPs have also been comparing themselves to the Messiah (Mark Francois MP, in case you're wondering), and have proven themselves literally incapable of deciding what to debate on Monday.

According to Politico we've officially reached 'Peak Brexit'. Soon commentators will run out of ways of saying 'this really is the most pivotal week of the whole process'. Don't hold your breath though as by this time next week we could have agreed a lengthy extension, because let's face it: what we all want at this stage is more Brexit.

From Maastricht with Love

Nothing says constitutional crisis quite like the first tie in a parliamentary vote for over a quarter of a century. On Wednesday MPs were very happy to take control of the business of the House of Commons away from the government, but still couldn't decide whether to have a third try at debating alternatives to the prime minister's deal on Monday. This meant the speaker had to decide for them.

Everyone knows just how much speaker Bercow hates to hog the limelight, so it came as no surprise that he went against the habit of a lifetime and actually supported the government, refusing to allow MPs a third go at debating Brexit alternatives. The last time a speaker of the House of Commons had to cast a vote to break a deadlock was - you guessed it - over Europe, too. In fact it was the last time the issue of Europe threatened to tear the Tory party apart: during the consideration of the Maastricht Treaty in 1993.

Lengthy extensions to all but Brexit

From then on, parliament did just about manage to agree to its own business. By one vote. That was the margin at 11.09pm on Wednesday, when MPs agreed Yvette Cooper's bill to force the government to seek an extension of the Article 50 process at next week's European Council. Just to make things clearer, the length of any extension was left undecided, although Theresa May's request today for an extension until 30 June may have short-circuited the process.

The bill was subjected to a lengthy debate in the House of Lords as well, where there were several attempts by Brexiteers to filibuster it on Thursday. In a demonstration of the seriousness of the crisis gripping the country, Liberal Democrat peers took the momentous decision to invite colleagues for tea and board games, to pass the time while Brexiteer Lords tried their best to prevent the bill from progressing. Needless to say Risk wasn't on offer, although there were laments at the absence of Cards Against Humanity. The Bill eventually passed its second reading at 10.41pm.

Extensions were even needed for a cabinet meeting this week, resulting in possibly the longest peacetime meeting of the cabinet. Ministers debated for over seven hours on Tuesday before agreeing a government position on Brexit, although they were then locked in for a further hour while the PM drafted her statement to the nation. It turns out that holding the keys to No.10 does come with some benefits after all.

Appointments, elections and flextensions

The PM has finally managed to coax a few additional MPs to take on ministerial roles vacated by their colleagues, despite the continuing uncertainty over Brexit. It remains to be seen how long these new members of the government will stay in post, not least given an expected Conservative leadership contest.

Meanwhile, the arithmetic in the House of Commons has changed ever so slightly, with the election of a remain-backing Labour MP in Newport West last night. The result there will nonetheless cause some concern within both Labour and Conservative ranks, with their combined vote share significantly down. Professor John Curtice's analysis is that the Conservatives lost votes to UKIP while the overtly pro-referendum parties garnered 11% of the vote between them, leeching votes off Labour. This is in line with the current direction of travel in national polling, although the effect of Nigel Farage's new 'Brexit Party' and the new group of remain MPs of 'Change UK' (formerly The Independent Group) is yet to be determined. There is nonetheless a clear movement towards further fragmentation of voting patterns as compared to the 2017 General Election, meaning we may continue to see hung parliaments for some time to come.

The possibility of European elections means we may not have to wait long to see their true electoral appeal, although Theresa May's request for an extension to 30 June is designed to prevent those elections from happening. As things stand, European Council president Donald Tusk is calling for member states to agree a 'flextension', giving the UK a long extension with the possibility of curtailing it if a deal is agreed. Countries' such as France are likely to remain highly sceptical of the approach, although efforts are likely to be intensified to ensure their support ahead of the emergency European Council meeting on 10 April, with the aim of preventing a 'no deal' departure.