IN the beginning there was just Brexit. Then we had Soft Brexit and Hard Brexit, and latterly No-Deal Brexit. Now comes a new variant: Blind Brexit. Brexiteers like Michael Gove have reportedly realised that there will be no agreement on Britain’s future trading relations with the EU before the Article 50 door closes next March. Fine with us, they say: at least we’ll be out of the European Union and to hell with the consequences.

In this summer of discontent, as Britain digs in for a Dad’s Army departure from the EU, complete with stockpiling food and martial law at the ports, it’s clear none of the options before parliament can prevail. The No-Dealers haven’t a clue; Theresa May’s White Paper is toast; the Labour opposition have abdicated responsibility. There’s no majority in parliament for another referendum.

Hence Blind Brexit. It’s different from No Deal in that it does involve a partial deal, that Britain will pay the £40 billion divorce bill, recognise the rights of EU citizens and accept an Irish backstop.

There would also be a solemn and binding commitment to working for a “friction-free” trade agreement, which no-one would believe, but would park the issue until after Britain is clearly and finally out of the European Union.

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, is thought to be open to this and willing to add agreements on security co-operation to any such deal in October. The Germans have denied that they favour Blind Brexit, but there does appear to be a softening of attitudes on the continent – or perhaps they’re just getting bored with the whole Brexit business.

Clearly, Theresa May’s “facilitated customs arrangement” is a non-starter. The EU can’t allow a country that isn’t a member of the customs union to collect duties. Britain could have a Canada-style free trade deal, a Norway-style EEA arrangement, which means remaining in the single market, or World Trade Rules, which (when negotiated) would mean tariffs and non-tariff barriers on goods going to the EU. Or none of the above, if you want to go the full Mogg.

May’s plan could, in theory, be adapted to become the European Economic Area – perhaps by having Britain rejoin the European Free Trade Area. EFTA was created by Britain in 1960, has its own court for settling disputes and would allow Britain to discretely join the EEA. In many ways, EFTA is the obvious solution, as even Tory Brexiteers like Daniel Hannan MEP argue. But this “Norway plus” model would never get past the Brexit headbangers of the Tory European Research Group of MPs. Moreover, the EEA is rejected by Jeremy Corbyn for reasons that defy explanation.

For their part, Brussels doesn’t want a crash-out/no-deal Brexit because it might lose the £40 billion that Britain owes to the EU budget. A Blind Brexit in October would at least secure the EU’s money and the future of EU citizens. Parking Britain’s future trade relationship could also work rather well for the 27. Businesses like Airbus are talking about moving production to the EU. Some financial organisations already have done so, including two of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s investment funds, confirming that money has no shame.

But Blind Brexit would be a catastrophe for Britain. At least with No Deal there is the option of

delaying the implementation of Article 50 at the last minute. The Brussels rules allow this – indeed, Britain could delay its departure indefinitely. As the former EU ambassador, John Kerr, has pointed out, freezing Article 50 would allow Britain to keep its current favourable deal with the EU.

If Article 50 just doesn’t happen, nothing does. We remain in the European Single Market and the Customs Union and there is no border issue in Ireland. More importantly, Britain doesn’t lose its hard-won opt-outs from EU Treaties, such as from the single currency, or its rebates from EU budget contributions. And, unlike the EEA option, Britain retains its say in the formation of single market policies. Moreover, the “power grab” of devolved responsibilities, that is threatening to undermine the Scottish Parliament, would also be halted. The EU Withdrawal Bill, which has sought to repeal the 1998 Scotland Act, would be stillborn.

THE truth is that Britain already has a very good deal from the European Union negotiated over many years. It is obvious now that there’s no way of replicating that favourable trading status from outside the EU. The Brexiteers have failed to come up with any credible plan that doesn’t involve huge losses for British industry and taxpayers. Theresa May’s White Paper compromise keeps all the “bad” things about being in Europe – the European Court, payments to Brussels, rules and regulations – without Britain having any say in them.

It’s also becoming clear that there will be the mother of all recessions when Britain leaves the EU. This is because of shrinking trade, collapsing investment, food-price inflation and the departure of migrant workers. That’s why the Bank of England jacked up interest rates last week. Governor Mark Carney revealed that the bank has “stress tested” for unemployment doubling, house prices collapsing by 30 per cent, and interest rates tripling. He also pointed out that Britain has already lost two per cent of GDP because of Brexit.

This is why the Michael Goves are giving the nod to Brussels that, if they just hold off decisions on our future trading arrangements, the UK will pay them the divorce money.

His Brexit supporters realise that the roof is about to fall in, but they hope that if they can just scrape over the March 29 deadline, then it won’t matter because Britain will be out of the EU with no prospect of getting back in. Why? Because it is inconceivable in future when (and it surely will be when) Britain tries to get back into the single market, that the EU will ever offer us a deal comparable to what we’ve just lost by leaving.

Blind Brexit is a real possibility, if only because Labour is reluctant to prevent it. Jeremy Corbyn is no great EU enthusiast anyway, and he probably hopes that, once the post-Brexit recession hits, the backlash will propel Labour into office. It very well might. But Labour would be inheriting an economy in a death spiral, with no prospect of rectifying matters in the short term.

The Hard Brexiteers have already factored a Tory defeat into their calculations. They know that May is doomed, and that this Conservative Government will fall sooner rather than later. But they believe a short, sharp spell of Corbynomics, against a background of chaotic post-Brexit economic recession, will allow the Tories to come roaring back in five years – or maybe 10 – with a hard right-wing leadership under Rees-Mogg or Boris Johnson.

This must not be allowed to happen. Britain must wake up from its Dad’s Army nostalgia. Labour, SNP, LibDems and Tory Remainers must get together and ensure that there’s no Article 50 until there’s a trade deal. Don’t let the Blind Men of Brexit take us blind-folded over the cliff.