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After humiliating defeat, time for more realistic approach on Brexit

Brexit is rewriting the political rulebook. A prime minister suffering a crushing defeat on a scale never before witnessed in British parliamentary history, simply shrugs it off and ploughs on.

In any other era, certainly before Brexit changed everything, Mrs May would have felt honour bound to resign, allowing someone else to take over.

However, so toxic is the process of securing withdrawal from the European Union that no one else within her party is inclined to step forward and offer fresh leadership. Not yet, anyway.

It is acknowledged that Mrs May took on a virtually impossible job when she succeeded David Cameron, who called the fateful referendum in the first place and then left the stage.

The fact that she has stuck to her task, despite losing her parliamentary majority in an ill-judged general election that left her beholden to the DUP, and despite the brickbats, coup attempts and vicious Tory infighting, has won her a degree of respect.

But all that obstinacy, toil and doggedness is meaningless if she cannot deliver a properly managed exit from the EU, one that does not damage the UK economy and impose a hard border in Ireland.

Her Withdrawal Agreement was not perfect but it was at least a plan that had a number of positives, including the backstop which is an important insurance policy for people on this island.

Her problem is that she cannot sell it to Westminster.

Tuesday night's defeat by a humiliating 230 vote margin means that minor surgery is not going to save this deal.

Nor does the EU seem inclined to offer some remedial action.

It has taken two years of fraught negotiations to reach this point so those who believe the EU is prepared to start again are deluding themselves.

It is up to the British government to come up with a proposal to prevent a no deal Brexit, a scenario that would be disastrous on a number of levels.

Somewhat belatedly, Mrs May said on Tuesday that she would start talking to other parties to see what would be acceptable to them.

Given her lack of an overall majority, she should have been doing this much sooner in the process.

Not only are her options shrinking, crucially she is also running out of time.

While it tries to come up with a workable way forward, the government needs to extend Article 50, delaying the March 29 withdrawal date.

It is imperative that a no deal Brexit is avoided and a sense of reality needs to dawn at Westminster.

The strategy of red lines and inflexibility has not worked. Time for a different approach.

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