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And the Brexiters said: “Blessed are the Pork-Pie-Makers”

With just 53 days until the UK leaves the EU, pork pies have become a talking point for MPs. Credit: PA

The Malthouse process, now officially approved by Theresa May, has had its first day of talks between Brexiters, Remainers, officials and ministers.

The discussions have been described by a couple of those in the room as “serious”, “constructive”, “detailed” and “lengthy” - on how to keep open the border on the island of Ireland using a conventional free trade agreement and light-touch new tech inspections away from the border.

The clock is ticking until the UK leaves the EU - there are just 53 days. Credit: PA

The point for those in the room, as you know, is to deploy these “alternative arrangements” to replace the widely hated backstop enshrined in the Withdrawal Agreement.

And there is the rub.

Because no one in the room knows whether the prime minister sees their work as a proper and compelling exercise, whose fruits will be the basis of new talks with Brussels, or as a ruse to keep her truculent Brexiter colleagues calm and in a box for a few precious days, while she calculates how to permanently out-manoeuvre and marginalise them.

Theresa May arrives for talks - will she solve her dilemma before time runs out? Credit: PA

If it is a game for the PM, it is high stakes - because she is on warning that a caucus of Tory Brexiters will revert to being her implacable enemies if they feel gulled.

For now however they are discussing how to reassure EU leaders that Northern Ireland’s pork pie makers would follow EU hygiene and health standards in perpetuity.

“The future of the UK’s constitutional independence should not be in the hands of the pork-pie manufacturers,” said one influential MP in the room, adding: “but at the moment it seems to be."

Another said: “it’s important!”

Well it’s all important.

And that’s the problem with just 53 days to Brexit.