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What is Theresa May's Brexit secret?

Is Theresa May running down the Brexit clock? Credit: PA

I can exclusively reveal that EU leaders have agreed that it is their "firm determination to work speedily... so that the backstop will not need to be triggered".

OK, I am being childishly facetious.

I say "reveal" because more or less all MPs seem to have forgotten that EU government heads said just that in a declaratory text of legal significance - if not binding legal force - on December 13 at the last European Council.

Or, to put it another way, they went as far as they feel they can go to say that the backstop - so hated by Brexiters and Northern Ireland's DUP - will never be implemented, subject to talks on a long-term trading relationship between the UK and EU going as well and swiftly as they might.

So the question is what else does the Prime Minister expect them to be able to say, to help her win her vote next week?

As of this moment, EU leaders simply don't know - which is jaw-droppingly surprising, given the proximity both of the life-or-death vote on her Brexit plan and of Brexit day itself.

Parliament is set to vote on the Brexit deal next week. Credit: PA

One source close to the talks on the other side of the channel said European prime ministers and presidents could simply endorse the statement they've already made - that is they could repeat that they see no reason why the backstop should ever become a reality.

This is satire that reveals a fundamental truth - namely that there is little EU leaders think they can do to deliver the vote for Theresa May, since they are clear and unambiguous that they can only give an expression of serious intent, not the new legally enforceable text that Brexiter Tories and the DUP insist upon.

And what’s more, enough Tory MPs hate the Prime Minister's Brexit plan for reasons other than the backstop to mean that there would be no salvation for her even if EU leaders were to dump it (which they never would).

So I would expect that at some point this week the Prime Minister and EU leaders will exchange letters that reiterate a sincere willingness to make sure the backstop is temporary, to prove to the world that both sides are being constructive - which would allow both sides to insist they hate the impasse.

But the letters will not swing a single additional rebel Tory vote in May’s direction.

Nothing will change.

Her Brexit plan will still be dumped by MPs.

Since the Prime Minister knows this, why on earth is she apparently wasting her time promoting the conceit that the EU is about to draft new words on the backstop that would rescue her Brexit plan?

“None is us really know” said a Cabinet minister.

“We assume she is running down the clock to make it even harder for Parliament to come up with an alternative.

"But we are observers, bystanders. We don’t really know”.

A Brexit that was supposed to be all about taking back control has paralysed the political system and turned senior ministers into bystanders as the country faces its moment of destiny-shaping Brexit truth.

This won’t and cannot hold.