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How a Brexit that MPs might support could destroy the Tory party

Theresa May and the Tory party is in an Credit: PA

The magnitude of the gulf between the cabinet and perhaps a majority of Tory MPs over how to deliver Brexit was on display like an oozing wound on my show last night.

The Chancellor was his normal phlegmatic, unsugaring self when revealing the government is reconciled to a long Brexit delay till at least the end of the year - and that the best the prime minister can hope for from the emergency EU council on Wednesday is that the EU’s 27 leaders would allow her a break clause, so that if a Brexit deal is fully approved on all sides earlier, the UK could leave the EU at that earlier juncture.

But even so, he conceded there is now no escape from preparing to participate in European parliamentary elections, at considerable financial and emotional cost to the UK.

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The point is that Hammond described talks with Jeremy Corbyn and Labour to break the Brexit deadlock as a longish process, which if unsuccessful - as my Labour sources anticipate - would nonetheless yield options for all MPs to vote on, during a Brexit beauty contest.

None of which will be speedy - and all of which yields the very great risk for Tory Brexiters that the PM will sign up to a form of Brexit that is anathema to them.

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Even Nadine Dorries, who is trying so hard to be a Tory unifier, said she could never support the UK’s membership of a Customs Union - which is the bare minimum demand from Corbyn for an entente with May.

But the potential coup de grace for May was delivered by the leading Tory ERG Brexiter Steve Baker, who said that almost any conceivable compromise reached with Corbyn and Labour would be unacceptable to a majority of Tory MPs.

So this is an unholy mess for May and the Tories. And the only small thing that might give her grim comfort was that Labour’s Tom Watson was not coy about the tensions in his party between the majority of his MP colleagues who like him are now in favour of a so-called confirmatory referendum and a Labour leader who remains a referendum-sceptic.

The idea that when it is too hard for MPs, a way through the impasse may only be found by putting a Brexit deal back to the people for ratification, is the powder keg under both parties.

In the Tory party, Hammond put a match to the fuse when describing another referendum as a “credible” option: and he implicitly posed the question to Baker and his allies that if parliament can not deliver them a Brexit they see as acceptable, perhaps they should take the chance of having their purer version of leaving the EU judged and backed at the last by the British people.