Colette Browne: 'Brexiteers enjoyed making threats about no-deal exit - but, true to form, didn't bother to make a plan for it'
This time next week we will know if Prime Minister Theresa May has managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and secured the support of the House of Commons for her Brexit deal - but the omens are not good.
Currently beavering away in Brussels, attempting to find some way to materially change the backstop so that it becomes palatable in London, UK attorney general Geoffrey Cox has denied reports he abandoned plans to insert a time limit or a unilateral exit.
"Reporting of the last 24 hours consists of misunderstood fag ends dressed up as facts. Some of it is accurate, much more of it isn't and what is not is far more significant than what is," he said on Twitter.
With just over three weeks to go until the March 29 deadline, Britain's most powerful lawyer has been reduced to posting intemperate clarifications on social media - which, regrettably, clarify nothing.
What we do know is Mr Cox is on something of a mission impossible, tasked with staying in Brussels until he can return to the UK with updated legal advice to the effect the UK has a legally enforceable escape route from the backstop.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the BBC yesterday the UK was prepared to be "flexible" in its approach and said his European colleagues were sending "positive signals".
What this really means is the British have no choice but to be flexible and the EU team is demonstrating herculean levels of patience by still deigning to speak with them.
According to Mr Hunt, a "fair arbitration mechanism" could be a way out of the impasse - a solution that would fail to satisfy the militant wing of his own party, which is determined to see concrete "alternative arrangements" put in place.
Meanwhile, the only input from the ostriches in No 10 was to release yet another delusional statement stating British negotiators are "definitely making progress" but there "definitely remains more work to be done".
The only good news for Ireland is it has now become clear that threats of an imminent no-deal exit from the EU are empty blather.
The UK can't afford to crash out and, even if it could, has no plan in place for that eventuality.
An extraordinary appearance by senior customs officials before Westminster's Public Accounts Committee on Monday underscored just how utterly risible British preparation has been.
Jim Harra, deputy director of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), said his office had been unable to provide any guidance to businesses in Northern Ireland because there was no plan in place for a no-deal scenario.
According to Mr Harra, his "main worry for day one is there is insufficient time for traders who wish to comply… even if we announce what our processes are tomorrow".
While Mrs May and the Tory right wing have enjoyed publicly threatening the mutually assured destruction of a no-deal exit, none of them bothered to actually come up with a plan for that outcome.
As if that wasn't bad enough, MPs were also told that HMRC has failed to hire a sufficient number of extra staff to cope with no deal and remains about 1,000 people short.
Mrs May, unable to rely on a significant chunk of her own party for support, has now begun wooing Labour MPs from Brexit constituencies with the promise of a 'Brexit bribe' in return for their support.
Regrettably, she couldn't even do that right and those plans have blown up in her face after it was revealed her £1.6bn (€1.8bn) Brexit bounty would be spread out over seven years.
Given there have been apocalyptic warnings from British farmers and manufactures about the cost, and likely job losses, from a no deal, a contingency fund of around £220m a year is truly pathetic.
The latest of those warnings came yesterday from senior executives within BMW and Toyota, who both warned that continued production of those vehicles in Britain would be thrown into doubt in a no-deal Brexit.
While the British continue to commit economic hari-kari, their inept handling of Brexit is also costing governments all across Europe billions as countries attempt to put in place contingency planning for an unknown outcome.
In this country alone, hundreds of millions is being poured down the drain as the Government is forced to plan for an eventuality that no one wants.
Constructive ambiguity about Border arrangements in the event of no deal means no one in this country is prepared for that scenario either - with fewer than half the additional customs officers required for Brexit currently in place.
What is clear is that a no-deal exit cannot happen, at least not in three weeks' time. A vote in the Commons this day next week will ensure that option is taken off the table.
If Mrs May loses yet another 'meaningful vote' on her deal on May 12, MPs will vote the next day on whether to leave the EU with no deal - which is certain to be rejected.
Then, on May 14, MPs will vote on extending Article 50 beyond March 29 - a prospect that comes with its own inherent problems, with European elections scheduled for May and Britain's involvement potentially mandated by any extension beyond that date.
A further complication is that French President Emmanuel Macron this week signalled his intention to use Brexit as a pretext to introduce sweeping reforms across Europe.
Among his more controversial suggestions was amending the Schengen area so those who benefit comply with a common asylum policy, the introduction of a treaty on defence and security, and an overhaul of trade and tax laws so businesses that fail to pay their fair share of tax incur penalties or a ban.
The upshot of this is that Ireland's tax policies and Eastern European countries' immigration policies are firmly within his crosshairs.
If there was to be a second Brexit referendum, it is likely Mr Macron's vision for Europe would be used by Brexiteers as evidence that deeper alignment, and a ceding of sovereignty, is an unavoidable consequence of continued membership.
The riposte to this is that, by remaining a member, the UK would have the opportunity to shape Europe's shared future.
Next week, we will at last have some definitive sign of the next step in this process - and, in the absence of a deal, the only guarantee is it is likely to be long and tortuous.