Brexit: One extraordinary day

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Tory MPs look on as the SNP's Ian Blackford speaks in ParliamentImage source, AFP

Look away now if you are of a nervous disposition.

A wiser head than me - there's dispute over whether it was Mark Twain or Bismarck! - once remarked that laws are like sausages, if you respect them it's best not to watch them being made.

Well the last forty eight hours in Westminster may give weight to that. Farce? Fiasco? Or maybe today in Parliament has been in the best tradition of British pantomime.

Or perhaps, this is in fact the completely predictable agony of split political parties, with leaders who struggle to command their troops, just trying to make it through after a huge vote that by its very nature, split the country in two.

Or depending on your view, it is perhaps exactly what Parliament is there for, to reveal the contradictions, where the government is strong and weak, and force ministers to give a bit where they ought to.

Whichever of those over-generalisations you plump for, and I suspect it will depend entirely on your own political convictions, this has been an extraordinary day.

MPs talking of "meltdown", or "uncharted territory", warning the prime minister against "betrayal". Trust in Tory circles breaking down, as the prime minister tries to face all ways.

There was the SNP's dramatic, if perhaps politically convenient, walk out over discussions of devolution being massively squeezed, complete with a scene where the Speaker looked like he might finally combust.

Then votes tonight that saw one of the biggest ever rebellions against Jeremy Corbyn, with 90 of his MPs disobeying his orders on a vote on the European Economic Area. Several of his front bench team quit their shadow posts to do so.

But even those rebels were split - 75 of them rebelling against the leadership to vote for closer ties to the EU, and 15 against Mr Corbyn to choose more distant relations.

And 14 Tories defied Theresa May's instructions too. For a government with no majority, that is a worry for the prime minister.

At times in the last forty eight hours this place has felt like a circus. But in the end, the government showed it can just get its way, whether by winning the argument, backing down, or postponing confrontation for now.

It's not been pretty, and it's not going to get any easier. One former minister grimly predicted this is turning into Maastricht. So, tomorrow, stand by for another row over what happens next.