The need for a viable deal means the prime minister will shortly become a bit-part in this national tragedy
Whatever else happens with Brexit, no one in British politics will ever again underestimate the power of a timetable. The pressure of the article 50 clock ticking down forced Theresa May into the compromises that make her deal unpalatable to MPs. She has tried to pass the pain on to MPs, hoping that the grim consequences of missing the deadline would force them to settle for her plan. Earlier this week, in an act of parliamentary jujitsu, the former attorney general Dominic Grieve turned the timetable weapon back on May, securing an amendment that sets a limit of three days for the prime minister to say what comes next if her deal collapses.
Running down the clock should eliminate options and force decisions. So far that hasn’t worked. Instead, the same volume of Brexit bluster has been compressed into an ever tighter space, which, in accordance with the laws of political thermodynamics, raises the temperature and increases the danger of something blowing up.