By Joe Harker
You saw the headline, Jeremy Corbyn won't negotiate with Theresa May unless no deal is off the table. The Labour leader criticised the prime minister's invitation to discuss Brexit as a "stunt" and insisted she needed to guarantee the UK wouldn't leave the EU without a deal before he would discuss anything with her. He has even asked all of his MPs not to enter into cross party talks with the government until the prospect of no deal is ruled out.
There are two problems with this. Firstly, the Tories are already secretly planning to rule out a no deal Brexit according to chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond in a leaked recording of a conference call with business leaders. He suggested proposals to rule out no deal Brexit would be allowed through the Commons with little resistance, the proposal coming from Tory MP Nick Boles.
Despite this, the government have also publicly insisted that they want to prepare for every eventuality, including a no deal Brexit. Commons leader Andrea Leadsom argued that ruling out a no deal Brexit "would be totally an incompetent thing to do". While privately the chancellor is seeking to reassure businesses that there will be a deal, the commons leader is refusing to take it off the table.
Mixed messages continue to confuse the Brexit process but the government have poured billions into preparations for no deal and they are unlikely to halt those plans now. While they want to reassure businesses that they will do everything possible to avoid leaving with no deal, the government needs to prepare for a no deal scenario.
Secondly, the prime minister can't actually rule out a no deal Brexit unless she has managed to agree a deal with the EU, which she has, and pass it through the House of Commons, which she definitely can't. Know how you avoid a no deal Brexit? By having a Brexit deal.
This is something May has said to Corbyn, calling it an "impossible condition" because the government can't literally rule out a no deal Brexit. As long as the UK has triggered Article 50 and doesn't have a deal in place it is heading for no deal by default.
What guaranteeing a no deal Brexit really means is calling off or delaying Article 50 to give the UK more time before it leaves the EU. At the moment the exit date is set for March 29, if Article 50 isn't extended or delayed by then we will be leaving, if there's no deal in place it will naturally be a no deal Brexit. May recently said she did not believe extending Article 50 was the right thing for the government to do, but could not rule out the possibility.
There are other issues with extending Article 50. The EU wants Brexit to be resolved before European Parliament elections in May, otherwise Britain's MEPs may have to run for seats they would only hold for a very short while. The EU has already allocated 27 of the UK's 73 seats to other countries, they want the matter to be sorted before votes take place.
Time is precious and May has run down the clock in an effort to scare MPs into backing the deal she agreed with the EU. It didn't work as she suffered the biggest Commons defeat in British history. The impasse between May and Corbyn looks set to continue and waste yet more time that the UK doesn't really have. By refusing to meet with one another they are making a no deal Brexit more likely.
The prime minister has been meeting leaders of other political parties in an effort to secure a cross party agreement for a new Brexit deal. Unfortunately there are so many groups to negotiate with that it is hard to see how a deal can be made that satisfies enough parties to get a Commons majority.
May must attempt a precise balancing act with leaders of parties that would prefer to Remain or have the softest possible Brexit without losing the support of even more of her own MPs, the softer she goes on Brexit the more likely she is to lose Tory support.
Matt Chorley of The Times writes that the prime minister is "stuffed". She cannot strike a cross party agreement without losing more of her own MPs but she cannot make a deal that brings enough of the 118 Tories who voted against her on Tuesday back onside.