the latest from Robert Peston
Just when the prime minister was desperate to lower the heat in those volatile negotiations on the UK leaving the EU, her Brexit secretary David Davis has thrown petrol on the raging fire - by saying there may not be final formal agreement on the terms of our exit till the last possible moment, namely one second before midnight on 29 March 2019.
This is incendiary both in the House of Commons and in Brussels.
Among MPs, especially Labour ones. it is outrageous - because, as Chuka Umunna pointed out in the Commons as a point of order, it appears to contradict a government promise that Parliament would have a “meaningful” vote on the eventual Brexit deal.
But that vote could never be “meaningful” if it takes place after 29 March 2019, as Davies confirmed it might well be, because by then the UK would already have left the EU.
It would give parliament the status of an approving chamber in a tinpot dictatorship.
As for Brussels, Berlin and Paris, what Davies said flies in the face of all their procedures, because they want and need a Brexit deal signed by October of next year, so that it can then be ratified BEFORE 29 March by national parliaments and the European parliament.
Strikingly, the prime minister appeared to contradict Davies when she said, during prime minister’s questions, that she hoped a parliamentary vote would be in good time before we actually Brexit.
What is underlying the mess and mayhem?
It is the conviction of May and Davies that not only the terms of our Brexit can be agreed in the coming 18 months, but also our future relationship in respect of trade and security - and the sheer magnitude and complexity of everything that has to be settled means, for Davis at least, that talks must and will continue till 29 March 2019.
They have to believe this is practical, because they are surrounded by Brexit zealots in their own party who are terrified that if talks on the future relationship with the EU were to continue after 29 March, during a so-called transition period to full Brexit, the UK would in practice remain a non-voting member of the EU for an indeterminate period, perhaps (they fear) forever.
The EU takes a completely other view. Its lead negotiator Barnier sees it as immutable truth that the future relationship between the UK and EU, especially a free trade deal, will take many years to negotiate - and that therefore talks on that future relationship must and will continue after 29 March 2019 during that transition period.
So all Barnier thinks can be agreed and ratified before 29 March 2019 are how much the UK pays as its divorce bill, the structure of the border between the Republic of Ireland and the UK, and the rights of EU migrants.
In other words, Davies has shone a light on possibly the most explosive question for both MPs and the rest of the EU - which is whether it is remotely practical for Brexit to actually mean Brexit in a year and a half from now.