WHERE do we go from here? For those of us who have been waiting for the opposition to get its act together – to find some way of stymieing the band of wreckers now governing Britain – a sense of palpable relief wafted from Westminster over the last seven days. It’s been a long time coming.

I spent much of last week waiting to see just how Labour would manage to balls the whole thing up. But to their credit, Jeremy Corbyn’s party finally found a line and stuck to it. Instead of blundering into the elephant trap of an early election, blowing up their own Bill, or descending into the usual infighting, they managed to find and keep their focus on diverting the country from the immediate prospect of a No-Deal Brexit this week.

But caution yourself: this is only a very temporary respite. Its effectiveness is entirely contingent on two things, both of which look precarious in the longer run. Firstly, it relies on continued European indulgence for Britain’s swithering. Nobody has infinite patience.

Second, think two steps ahead. This week’s outbreak of consensus on the opposition benches does nothing to answer the much more fundamental incoherence which continues to afflict Labour’s position on Brexit. Tory dissenters from the government line are purging themselves. Labour’s persist. A General Election has been briefly deferred – but when one comes, as come it will all too soon – the outgoing Johnson administration will be left with a clear if mendacious pitch for re-election, while Jeremy Corbyn’s line on Brexit remains muddled and contradictory.

Even taking into account the Prime Minister’s evident weaknesses, his jabbering incoherence, his bad character, the obnoxiousness of this cabinet and the wrecking ball politics they’re committed to – this contrast hardly bodes well for Labour’s counter-campaign.

So amid all the votes, the appalling speeches, the fainting policemen, dubious optics and sackings and resignations of the wee, it’s worth taking a moment to consider what the European Union Withdrawal (No 6) Bill actually does, and critically, what it doesn’t do.

The legislation raced through both Houses of Parliament this week and will become law when it receives Royal Assent. Some of the more pop-eyed Brexiteers are suggesting Boris Johnson should tip Brenda the wink to withhold assent and leave the Bill unsigned beneath her copy of Take A Break beside her upstairs commode.

The last time this happened was in 1708, when Queen Anne refused to sign the Scottish Militia Bill, amid anxieties about a French invasion, and the suspect loyalties of the Scots the Bill proposed to distribute muskets to.

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So what about 2019? Some 311 years on, this government seems attracted to the theory that the British constitution says whatever they want it to say. If you’d rather – in the PM’s phrase – “be dead in a ditch” than do what the law says you must do, more juggling with Britain’s periwinkled constitutional conventions may seem like a risk worth taking. After all, what’s a little more broken crockery?

Hilary Benn’s Bill has a back story. Quietly, over the summer, someone has sat down and thought seriously about how this reckless administration could be curtailed. To their credit, it is a tight, cunning bit of legal writing which aims seriously to curtail the Prime Minister’s room for manoeuvre in his relations with the rest of the EU. It is a Bill designed for a ratbag government, which can be trusted only to warp, bend, twist and finesse any power they’ve been given.

So how does this Bill truss them up? Here are the headlines. Despite what Tory frontbenchers might tell you, the Bill doesn’t actually rule out a No-Deal Brexit on October 31, nor does it prevent a majority of MPs – if a majority can be found – from backing any new deal which Boris Johnson’s negotiators can strike with Brussels.

Either way, all the new rules require is that the government must bring a motion back to the House of Commons if it wants to leave the EU with or without a deal. MPs must then explicitly approve the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union with that agreement, or without one.

The Prime Minister insists he has been making progress with European negotiators, despite the lack of any evidence to this effect. But let’s do something risky and take the PM at his word. Contrary to the spin his ministers have frantically been trying to put on it, nothing in this Bill would prevent him from laying this brand spanking new deal before parliament in the sparse days of parliamentary time his prorogation leaves in the “rigmarole” of the September session introduced “by girly swot Cameron”.

But what happens if – as seems increasingly likely – Johnson’s administration can’t scrounge together even the semblance of a new compact with Brussels by the second half of October, and half the House of Commons won’t vote to leave without one? Under the new Bill, the Prime Minister must do a number of things.

FIRST, Boris Johnson must seek a further extension from the European Council. In another vote of confidence in the “incontinent mendacity” of this Prime Minister, MPs have even drafted the text of the

letter Johnson must send to the President of the European Council asking for more time, robbing the Tory leader of the opportunity to solicitously address his European counterparts as krauts, frogs and dagos in this correspondence.

The Bill also specifies the length of the extension Johnson must request in this scenario, taking EU exit day back to the January 31, 2020 “in order to debate and pass a Bill to implement the agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union”.

London can’t insist on the co-operation of the other European countries. Westminster has no power to require the other 27 states to grant the UK such an extension – but MPs can order the Prime Minister to accept one, if it is offered. The Bill does so. Boris Johnson must “immediately” accept an extension to the end of January next year, it says. If the Europeans come up with some other date, the PM has until October 30 to intimate to the European powers that the UK accepts that too.

But you’ll notice this Bill has important limitations. It doesn’t seriously tie the hands of future governments. If a General Election after October 31 returns a majority of MPs happy to leave the EU without a deal, the provisions of this Bill wouldn’t even have to be repealed to steer Britain off into the Atlantic without its paperwork in order. That’s democracy you might well say – but this is a temporary savings measure, built by and designed for the currently divided arithmetic of the House of Commons.

In its detailed restrictions on the Prime Minister, the Bill is a monument to the mistrust this administration has already generated. It is a worldly document, and to that extent, a wise one. This is a government which can only be relied on to be unreliable. This administration’s watchword is: “what can we get away with?” It’s compliance with the rule of law will be creative, weaselly and structured by political self-interest.

What happens next? Last week, the opposition got up off the floor. Testing their strength against this new administration found Johnson and his ministers wanting. Instead of the promised energy, the regime already seems overrated, ruffled and knackered, making bad calls and jarring tonal choices.

But don’t kid yourself on. This is just the end of the beginning for the campaign for a No-Deal Brexit. Stymied, for now, but sure to rally.