Now what for the PM and Brexit?

Theresa May arrives at No 10 after postponing the Commons vote on her Brexit deal Image copyright Getty Images

Now what? The prime minister didn't delay the vote because she wanted to.

She and her team made the decision because the option of a horrendous defeat was more grim than the humiliation of delay.

Cabinet ministers were arguing that even in these strange political times, some of the traditional political rules do still apply - don't call a vote that you can't win, and don't ask a question that you don't know the answer to.

So Theresa May made it through another day. What now though? The very act of postponing the vote, in and of itself, has been another knock to the PM's credibility.

Anyone listening to even a fraction of Monday's debate, while the PM stood there taking question after question after question, could not help but conclude that.

The questioning was not just hostile, but also incredulous. The implication - how on earth, despite all the difficulties, has Theresa May allowed it to come to this?

Tonight she is on her way to press the flesh once more with other European leaders. She'll see the normally friendly Dutch, the important Germans, and then is likely to arrive in Brussels to see the EU top brass.

It's pretty clear already though that they are not in the market for making big changes - helpful verbal clarifications, or linguistic gymnastics perhaps - but a dramatic renegotiation of the divorce deal - forget it.

What is the point then? Having one more heave might blunt at least some of the criticism. If Tory MPs have been saying she has to have another go, well, she is having another go, and some of those who were calling for that old chestnut "she must do more", may be satisfied.

But as things stand, it seems unlikely that she'll be able to return to Parliament with anything that's very different to the agreement as negotiated. One source closely involved in the talks told me "there is never going to be a withdrawal agreement without a backstop".

And it feels right now that Brexiteer and Remainer MPs are so entrenched in their positions that if there can't be a dramatic change, the numbers whenever a vote's called are very much against her.

If there is no prospect of a real change then all that's been achieved is to postpone a likely defeat.

And again that puts all the choices that will then become urgent and immediate about a real Plan B for the prime minister on hold.

Right now she is trying to maintain her case that it's her deal or no deal, or no Brexit, ruling out another referendum again, at least under her leadership, and trying again to stick to the course.

In blunt terms, though, perhaps it's as a senior Tory MP told me - the decision is just about trying to "protect her bunker".

For today, to delay was to survive. And even though Parliament, and no doubt many more members of the public, more importantly, will be aghast at yet another delay in this long drawn-out saga, there is no plan, nor anything ready or with enough agreement from enough MPs to take its place.

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