For many people watching at home, I suspect last night’s chaos in the Commons was a watershed moment. Of course Parliament has been trapped in Brexit purgatory for months, but the farcical scenes of the government first offering a free vote, then attempting to impose a whip, and then being defeated twice in half an hour with cabinet ministers defying the whip – it bore all the hallmarks of a political system in collapse.

But it did, brutally, expose a simple truth: we need more time.

Government and Parliament have so far been unable to find any way out of the Brexit impasse. Parliament has twice rejected both the government’s deal and the national calamity of crashing out with no deal – but that is where we are currently heading in just 15 days, if no other solution is found. That’s why MPs must tonight vote to extend the Brexit deadline, to give our country the necessary time and space to find a credible way forward.

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The length of any extension is less important than the motivation for seeking one. Our friends and allies in the EU will be perfectly happy to agree to an extension for as long as is necessary, provided they know we would use it well.

It is not the timeframe that is important, it’s the principle. An extension must be used to provide clarity, finally, on what the country wants. Time mustn’t be wasted on more kicking the can down the road, more patience-testing tinkering with interpretative texts, more blinkered insistence that the only way is the Theresa May way. 

We need to use this extra time to see whether there is an alternative Brexit that could command consensus. And if our prime minister won’t look for it, shouldn’t someone else get the chance? And shouldn’t the country at large get the Final Say? It’s not some arcane Westminster game: it’s people's jobs and rights and futures that are at stake.

Brexit began with the people, and should end with the people.

Just as the EU27 have always said that their Brexit positions could change if May's red lines changed, so they have repeatedly said they would have no problem with an Article 50 extension to permit whatever democratic process the UK needed to resolve Brexit once and for all. They have also made clear their belief that the best outcome from this whole sorry mess would be for the UK to make the democratic choice to change its mind. And the European Court has confirmed that, if we did, none of the cumulative improvements to our current EU deal, so painstakingly negotiated by successive prime ministers, would fall away. 

So when MPs tonight decide which voting lobby to go through, let’s hope they put the national interest first and vote for more time.

And when that extra time is granted, let’s hope they’re brave enough to use it to put an end to this nightmare, look for real national consensus, and give the British public the Final Say. It is now the only way.

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