Parliament is geared up for a legislative marathon over the next two days, as the government battles to pass its EU (Withdrawal) Bill with as few of the 15 House of Lords amendments as possible.
But as Theresa May pressures and cajoles her rebellious backbenchers, and as Labour contorts itself in an attempt to play all sides, it is worth looking beyond the Bill, to the future of the negotiations.
Two years on from the referendum, there is still no detail from the government as to what our post-Brexit relationship with the EU should look like. The Prime Minister’s art of kicking the can down the road has left the field open for Brussels to set the narrative, preemptively rejecting each of the plans currently being argued over.
Once the Brexit Bill is through, May must end this stasis. Rather than continue the impossible task of trying to please everyone, she must make a decision – on customs, sovereignty, regulatory alignment, and migration – and stick to it.
Some members of the cabinet may threaten to resign, as David Davis did last week. Let them. The prospect of another snap election and the threat of a Corbyn government should deter anyone thinking about challenging her leadership at this stage.
Some compromise is necessary between the vision of the ideological Brexiteers and the Remainers who still pretend that the referendum never happened. The top priority must be ensuring that the City is not dictated to by Brussels, without a say in the process, and enabling Britain to sign trade deals as soon as possible.
On migration, perhaps we should be more flexible, given the widespread public support for high-skilled migrants, especially in medical and technical roles.
On security and customs, Britain holds more cards than May seems prepared to play. The UK’s offer to continue full security and intelligence cooperation is an important cog in the negotiation machine.
Some will argue – in Brussels and in London – that the EU cannot cross its red lines, even to suit its own interests. To them, one need only point to the fate of Penka the cow this week, destined for death after wandering out of the EU in search of fresh grazing, but saved by a international campaign. If the EU can bend the rules for a cow, it can do so to safeguard trade and the economic wellbeing of its businesses.
This week’s votes are a hurdle for May to overcome, but once clear of them she still faces a marathon if she’s to secure the bold and ambitious partnership she used to talk about. It’s time for her to show clear and confident leadership.