After a week of Brexit-induced parliamentary confusion, politics expert IVOR GABER tries to find a way through our current EU impasse

The sharp-eyed among you might have spotted that, when it comes to Brexit, I favour a second referendum but, given the understandable confusions surrounding the week’s events in Parliament, I am going to try and clarify where we are now and where we might end up.

First, it is important to bear in mind that none of the votes that Parliament held this week carry any legal force, they are all merely statements by MPs of what they would like, or would not like, to happen.

The formal legal situation is that we will be leaving the EU at midnight on March 29 because that was put into law when MPs enacted Article 50; and until Parliament passes another law counteracting this, that is where we will be.

In other words, despite the large vote in Parliament against leaving with no deal, if Parliament cannot agree on the next step, that could still happen. However, given the very large majority against this course of action, that is unlikely to happen.

What is more likely, almost certain, is that Theresa May will bring her deal back to Parliament next week, asking for support for a third time. And as the clock ticks away, more and more of her hard-line Brexiteers – and the Northern Irish DUP – might well be tempted to vote for it and, as a result, it might just squeak through.

This is not because the Attorney General will have come up with yet another clever interpretation of the Backstop – the guarantee that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic – but because some of the Tory Brexiteers will have peered over the cliff-edge of a long-delayed, or even no Brexit, and decided that half a loaf is better than no bread.

But if Mrs May’s deal doesn’t squeak through, and because of the parliamentary arithmetic it can only be passed by the narrowest of margins, what then?

The answer for the long-term, as ever, is who knows; but in the shorter term we do know that MPs will be given a series of other options and asked, “If you don’t like Mrs May’s deal, what do you like?” And here it all starts to get very murky.

Some, including the Labour Party, want a closer relationship with Europe, sometimes called the Norway Option.

This would entail a much longer delay, maybe of up to two years, to enable it to be negotiated.

At the other extreme, some still want to leave with no deal or to have the very loosest of relations with Europe – the Canada Plus model.

Others still think that Mrs May’s deal is the best obtainable and will keep voting for it, whilst there remain others who want a second referendum.

One thing we know for sure, all these options, bar no deal, would entail a much longer delay, if we are to leave at all.

What of the EU itself in all of this? They now hold more cards than before. First, they know that no deal is virtually (if not legally) off the table, but they also know that Mrs May – even if she gets her deal through –will have to ask them for a delay in order to get all the necessary legislation through Parliament.

They – and by ‘they’ we mean all 27 governments - could be very nice and simply say, “Yes, of course Theresa” but there are signs that it might not be that straight forward.

Reports from some European capitals suggest that a number of governments are getting very frustrated and annoyed by our failure to agree on anything about Brexit. And they just might say, “Delay, yes of course Theresa, but can you make it for two years, rather than three months, to give yourselves time to get it sorted, either in Parliament or via a second referendum?”

It’s at this point that local Hove MP, Peter Kyle, might just be seen on the horizon riding to the rescue. His amendment, which hasn’t yet been debated by the House, is strikingly simple. It says, Mrs May’s deal should be allowed to go through (probably with Labour abstaining) but – and there’s always a ‘but’ – on condition that it is only put into effect once it has been ratified by the British people in a Yes/No referendum.

If it is defeated and with no deal off the table, the only alternative is that we remain full members of the EU.

When opponents of a second referendum object saying that they have already expressed their view, I am reminded of the words of the great economist, John Maynard Keynes, who said “When the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do sir?”

Ivor Gaber is Professor of Political Journalism at the University of Sussex and a former Westminster political correspondent