FROM the very outset the government’s negotiations with the EU have been undermined by the presence of a vociferous element in Parliament sending the clear signal that, in effect, the UK would have to accept whatever terms Brussels offered, and that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ was merely a ‘paper tiger’ slogan.

The very worst outcome for the EU is a no deal Brexit: it denies them the substantial financial settlement and their businesses will be saddled with the vast bulk of tariff payments –they, after all, have the £100 billion trade surplus.

This fact should have afforded us great negotiating leverage with the mere threat of no deal. Alas, rightly they assessed that the PM had no parliamentary majority to make that threat credible.

Last week Parliament voted for two things: first to send the PM back to re-negotiate the deal; Second, it resolved that we should not leave without a deal.

These are mutually exclusive objectives.

Why should the EU blink first?

They know Parliament won’t walk away. So they know that they won’t have to make any concessions.

Infuriating, isn’t it?

Notwithstanding 80 per cent of voters casting their ballots at the last general election for parties explicitly committed to leaving the EU customs union, there is a growing demand in Parliament for us to remain within it as a means of breaking the current impasse.

We need to be clear what this means.

It would mean that we could trade as we do now with the EU without tariffs but this comes at a cost:

We would not have any flexibility to negotiate better trade relationships with non-EU third countries; but we would have no voice or vote in the conduct of EU trade policy; our trade would remain subject to the jurisdiction of the EU court; the EU could negotiate favourable trade access to UK markets for third countries outside the EU, whilst affording us no reciprocal access to their markets.

It’s not a tempting prospect, and it doesn’t even solve the problem anyway. It will neither address the problem of the Irish border nor deliver a continuation of friction-less trade at any border.

Unless the UK remains within the EU Internal market (continuing with free movement, paying our annual subscription, and being subject to EU laws –but without any voice in the making of them) we will have to comply with checks to ensure that exports from the UK are compliant with EU standards.

I do not doubt that the advocates of remaining in the customs union realise all this. Theirs is a war of attrition, an incremental battle, once acceptance of a customs union is achieved, they will add the demand for the EU internal market too.

If they get their way, we will leave the EU in name only.