Government must prepare for what might happen next
It says much about the position of Theresa May, with seemingly nothing left to lose, that she went on a whirlwind tour of Europe, and lost again. Devoid of a national consensus, or any discernible plan, she threw herself at the mercy of Europe where no quarter could be given.
Brexit was always going to be a leap in the dark, with the hope after much fumbling around someone might find a light switch.
It was to have been a binary choice: Either in the EU or out. When 52pc voted Leave, the Tories had a call to make.
As often happens when critical decisions are arrived at, rather than take direction, they chose to devour each other.
Jeremy Corbyn also froze during an hour of dire need. Leadership is about many things; donning a cloak of invisibility at a time of national emergency is not one of them.
Faced with a horrendous defeat Mrs May made a calculation - the humiliation of delay was the lighter price to pay.
She reverted to the political playbook of survival which demands that you never call a vote you can't win.
She may have survived, but at what cost?
Apart from delivering a knock-out blow to her own credibility, she has brought even more volatility to an already disintegrating government.
The mood in the Commons is incredulous.
Yet all the blame cannot be laid at her door. Knowing she could do nothing she was still urged to have another go.
There cannot be a withdrawal agreement without a backstop.
Nor can there be a pain-free Brexit. The only questions are how much pain and for how long.
If Mrs May was hoping to be thrown a life-belt, what she got was an anvil.
"The deal we achieved is the best possible. It's the only deal possible. There is no room whatsoever for renegotiation," European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said in an address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
Brexiteers and Remainers are as far apart and as deeply entrenched as ever. With no prospect of real change, all that's been achieved is deeper uncertainty and division.
Plan A has been shelved and Plan B does not exist. A second referendum might offer a route out of the bunker, but this too has been ruled out. In less than four months, the UK will leave the EU.
The possible scenarios include Mrs May's deal somehow winning approval in a new vote; Mrs May losing her job; Britain leaving the bloc with no deal or another referendum.
Whatever the outcome, this is a crisis unparalleled in modern history.
But our own Government would do well to heed the words of Vince Cable, who has remained a rare voice of sanity throughout: "You prepare for what might happen rather than what you want to happen."