We are at something of a turning point. Unless something significant changes, in two weeks we will have confirmation that the Brexit negotiations have failed to move on to maters of trade and transition at the second opportunity. This has led the EU to start taking very seriously the prospect of either a no-deal Brexit or a full-scale political crisis here in Britain. Businesses will also very soon be arranging their budgets and plans for the next financial year, and will be doing so with very little confidence in the government's ability to deliver a smooth and orderly Brexit.
The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - which is the primary legislative tool designed to ensure this smooth transition - is currently being debated in the House of Commons. It will be debated for two days this week, with a further six scheduled in the future. The bill itself is facing - wait for it - 471 amendments. That's 180 pages.
A key theme of the amendments is the idea of a "meaningful vote" on the final Brexit deal. This would mean that if parliament deems the deal unsatisfactory, we can maintain the status quo whilst we go back to the drawing board. Being able to secure this arrangement would act as a safety net, allowing the Bill to be properly scrutinised, and would take the thing that businesses fear the most - a cliff edge no-deal Brexit without any preparation time - out of the equation. It would maintain the flexibility required to ensure that the worst case scenario cannot be realised.
If there is one thing this government has done well throughout this process however, it is removing flexibility and backing themselves, and the country, into a corner. Now though, they are making attempts to go further than ever before. First of all, an amendment to the bill was proposed that would enshrine an exit time of 11pm on the 29th March 2019 into British law, regardless of any deal being in place. That we exit on this day is already a matter of law, but if the worst case scenario looks likely, there are ways we can deal with it. This may be an extension of the A50 period - perhaps of a further two years, to allow negotiations to continue, it may be a revocation of A50 altogether, or it may be a last-ditch crisis round of talks to mitigate damage - what I and others have described as a "negotiated no-deal'. If passed, the amendment would remove all of these options, meaning that if less than everything is agreed by that time, we crash out in chaos with no way to mitigate.
Then yesterday, everyone except for the hard-Brexiteers thought they had landed a big win - the government conceded that there would be a Parliamentary vote on the final deal - in the form of a Withdrawal Agreement Bill. Upon closer inspection though, the move revealed itself as a Trojan horse which would in fact serve to ensure that a meaningful vote on the final deal is an impossibility.
Not only did David Davis suggest that this vote may not happen until after we have left, it was made brutally clear that if parliament voted against the deal we would exit without a deal at all. One the one hand, the fact that when he said this that other MPs audibly gasped was slightly odd as this has always been the case - no-deal has always been the default. Perhaps though, they were gasping at the fact that the government is seeking to remove any possibility of this changing. Pat McFadden MP described this as "putting a gun to this House's head" - it means MPs have to vote for the final deal or doom the country to crashing out without one.
From a business perspective, this actively ensures uncertainty until after March 29th 2019. An amendment that would maintain the status quo in some way if the final deal is deemed unacceptable would at least give businesses a guaranteed safety net, even if planning for post-Brexit arrangements can only happen much later than would have been ideal.
In reality though, March 2019 will be too late. Businesses will have made their decisions before then and the extent of the fallout will already be clear. Rather than giving businesses the information and time they need to plan, the Government is set on taking us to the edge of the precipice and is blocking off all escape routes. Businesses will not peer over the edge, but will make escape routes of their own.