WHEN THERESA May dashed to Strasbourg on Monday evening it looked like typical EU negotiations by brinkmanship.

We now know there was no rabbit and no hat, and the illusion was finally shattered when the Attorney General confirmed that nothing had changed. This killed off hopes for the Withdrawal Bill, and plunged the UK and its economy even deeper into confusion and doubt about the future.

What is needed now is some reality, in the hope that can bring focus onto the real issues. Mrs May's priority is said to be to avoid being the prime minister that split the Tory party. In reality that has already happened, when she cannot depend on her backbenchers for support. She needs to forget about sticking her broken party back together and make the fate of the UK economy her priority.

As for the European Commission, the government needs to accept that when it says the talking is over, it means it. The decision to circle the wagons to defend its interests has been made. It never wanted the UK to leave, and will continue to do all it can to achieve a reasonable divorce. However it is not going to change its principles to satisfy Tory Brexiteers and the DUP. The ball is now in the UK court and while Brussels will agree to extend Article 50 and the leaving date, the game will not be won by kicking the ball into touch, yet again.

Honesty at Westminster also needs to extend to the Labour party. It is as deeply divided as the government, driven by Momentum activists just as the Tories are by pro-Brexit Conservative associations. In any other situation the mess the government is in would trigger a general election. Deep down Labour knows a win is unlikely because people cannot envisage Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister. The result would probably be no party securing a majority, and a continuation of the Brexit mess as politics continue to squeeze out economic common sense.

An election may happen, but it would not solve the problem. The biblical quotation, cometh the hour, cometh the man makes a lot of sense. The politician that puts the long term interests of the country ahead of party could now make a lot of progress, but distrust of compromise is making that impossible.

This is all far removed from agriculture, but events at Westminster are making a bad situation worse in terms of delay and uncertainty. In the 33 months since the referendum vote, we are no further ahead in knowing how agriculture will be supported, whether environmental rules will be even tougher and more bureaucratic than in the EU and where we will sell what we now sell to the EU-27.

This is not what any farmer who backed Brexit wanted to happen, and today they must be seriously disappointed and frustrated with the outcome. Far from being the mother of parliaments, the UK parliament is now a global laughing stock. It has managed to make the EU appear statesmanlike and principled, which is never easy. It has hung itself on the issue of a backstop which is unlikely to be triggered, given the commercial realities of both sides needing to make a trade deal work.

Instead we now have pro-Brexit politicians looking to the past and to a new relationship with the Commonwealth, despite those members that are the best trade prospects being more interested in trade deals with the EU and its 500 million population.

By any standards this is a mess. History will, rightly, judge David Cameron badly for calling a referendum he did not believe in to stop his party's divisions over Europe. Theresa May's sense of duty will be judged better for having accepted a poisoned chalice. However she will be seen to be weak and a poor negotiator in Europe, ending up a political minnow amongst sharks.

From this mess someone will rise to get the ship back on course, be that to a customs union, a sound Brexit or another referendum. That will be the person who will be judged well by history, and who will risk all now to compromise and find a deal.

Sadly there are no signs of them emerging. In the meantime the government is talking tough on tariffs, forgetting that imposing these on EU food is a zero sum game, while leaving a massive loophole that will allow Ireland to continue exporting to the UK tariff free via Northern Ireland.