I have attended two conferences in the last week at which, unsurprisingly, Brexit was the principal (if not quite the only) show in town. Panels of illustrious lawyers and politicians debated the challenges inherent in a "once in a lifetime" constitutional crisis.
As in the wider country, views differed; but unlike the experience in the referendum debate, the discussion was well-informed and no obvious untruths were told!
Nevertheless, there was a palpable sense of anxiety, worry even, permeating the halls and rooms in which we sat.
A senior and highly respected former Government lawyer told his audience there was no cause for concern about Government's capacity to deliver Brexit, as their lawyers had been planning for it ever since the referendum result was announced. My own conversations with former Government legal colleagues at the coalface left a rather different impression: but even if the machine did leap into gear as soon as the result was known surely that was much too late?
The referendum was not offered in response to an irresistible public clamour to reclaim the country. It was a misconceived political play by the previous PM designed to neuter his party's raucous right-wing. Cameron gambled - and lost - and now we are all paying the price.
Other speakers I listened to with great interest lauded the ingenuity of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, drafted in sufficiently flexible terms to facilitate a deal or the now infamous cliff-edge. Admirable, I can see, in narrow focus; but hardly the mechanism to secure the certainty which so many have suggested the country craves. And what irony that a campaign that majored on making our Parliament sovereign again should give birth to a Bill handing so much power to the Executive!
Most of all I was struck in such an uncertain world by the stark assertions about what was - or was not - possible. "No scope - or time" said some to hold a second referendum: and no discernible shift in the public mood to justify it. Yet, as I recall, the vote went 52:48. A relatively tight decision. One that even experienced pollsters would hesitate to re-assess without a proper evidence base - especially given their track record of late.
Sadly, as another of those whose views I enjoyed hearing put it, we are only now having the debate which should have preceded the referendum. Had it taken place earlier, and people really turned their minds to the gargantuan task which lies ahead in extricating ourselves from the Union, they would soon have seen that "Just cracking on" wasn't an option. We face the prospect of years and years more uncertainty at best, and in all likelihood a settlement that sees us all much worse off than we were before - or than we ever needed to be.
Contrary to what we are told now, there is still time to pull back from the precipice, and I fervently hope that we find the leaders with the courage to do that before it is too late.
I will now update the house on the fifth round of negotiations with the EU. ... Whilst at times the negotiations have been tough, both Michel Barnier and I have acknowledged the new dynamic that has been created by the Prime Minister’s speech in Florence. This momentum was maintained during October. Both negotiating teams continued to work constructively together. Since June we have steadily developed our shared political objectives. Now nevertheless there is still some way to go to secure a new partnership.