It’s a customs-union party-splitting Brexit or no deal

It is time for Labour and Tory MPs to wake up and see the Brexit reality staring them in the face.

Which is that, after tonight’s demonstration that the Government simply doesn’t have the votes to push through a Brexit plan of any description with simply its MPs and those of Northern Ireland’s DUP, all MPs face a simple choice.

Forget the idea floated by Olly Robbins in a Brussels bar of a 21-month Brexit delay - which was overheard by my ITV News colleague Angus Walker.

I cannot find a single senior serious person in or around the EU who thinks it is going to happen.

Truthfully they regard it as an example of eccentric British humour.

Second, there is literally no possibility of the backstop being time-limited or altered to give the UK a unilateral right of exit.

MPs voted by 303 to 258 against the motion endorsing the Government's approach to Brexit. Credit: PA

After tonight’s voting debacle, no one in the EU thinks that she would secure a majority for her deal even if they were to give Theresa May everything she and the ERG Brexiters say they want and eviscerated the backstop.

The EU has given up on Theresa May as the deliverer of any Brexit and is now pinning its hopes on MPs of all parties coalescing around a customs-union version of the long-term relationship between the UK and EU - which would turn the hated backstop into the bridge to a permanent solution that it was always designed to be.

A customs-union Brexit as the only compromise deal on offer will test to breaking point the unity of Tory and Labour parties.

But if it is not seized, then the default option of a no-deal Brexit becomes the vivid reality.

There is an outside chance that as and when this reality bites, MPs will belatedly think it is all too hard for them and decide to put the choice back to us in a referendum.

But that is a remote prospect, not least because proponents of a people’s vote are being hopelessly naive if they think the EU will role over like a lovestruck poodle and simply give us all the time we need, to prevaricate and dither for years yet to come.

No this really is make your mind up time for MPs.

Theresa May and the ERG Brexiters can say all they want that nothing is changed by tonight’s vote.

They could not be more wrong.