‘WHERE are we now?” as David Bowie asked in 2013, in one of his loveliest and most plaintive songs, “The moment you know you know you know.”

Well, Dave, we’re at the moment we know we don’t know, you know. Despite this week’s votes, each new decision of the Commons leaves us less sure of where we are, let alone where we’re going. MPs of all views have hardened their stance so firmly that they are now obliged to believe things flatly contradicting the position they advocated five minutes ago.

Leavers who assured us Brexit would make Britain like Norway now rule out any solution which remotely resembles Norway as “not real Brexit”. Remainers who argued the referendum wasn’t legally binding and could be ignored now claim that Tuesday’s non-binding vote on ruling out a no-deal Brexit for all time must be enshrined in law.

Everyone at first agreed that Monday’s vote rejecting the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement for the second time meant it was dead in the water. Then, like Jaws 2 or something out of The Walking Dead, it resurfaced, and we’ll apparently have another vote on it next week.

It’s not absolutely impossible that it will go through, but the numbers from the two meaningful votes so far make it look extraordinarily unlikely. January’s rejection of it was the worst defeat for any government policy ever; Monday’s vote against was only the fourth worst. That’s movement, but nothing like enough. Even if it were finally to go through, it’s only the starting point for hundreds of bills and negotiations to follow, every one of which could create the same stalemates.

Two things, in all this mess, are clear. The first is that Theresa May has one idea in her head, which is to run down the clock until there is no option other than voting for her deal, and has no interest in any other option that might get through the Commons. The other is that, unless you’re Mrs May, you think her deal is the worst outcome possible.

The central problem with Brexit has been nothing intrinsic to the referendum decision, or even the EU’s demands, but the Prime Minister and the ludicrous position she has singlehandedly manufactured, and of which no one actually approves. Even before yesterday’s vote on delaying the date of departure, it was clear that her sole ally was time.

The trouble with an extension to the Article 50 deadline, quite apart from the fact that it requires the permission of all the other EU member states, is that a short technical delay doesn’t offer enough time for the Commons to agree (making the dubious assumption that agreement is possible) on any course of action other than the current Withdrawal Agreement, or some very slightly tweaked version of it. This is, of course, what Mrs May’s banking on.

A longer delay of say 21 months, on the other hand, creates several potential difficulties. Its purpose would need to be justified. We would also have to participate in the European Elections, in which the SNP would presumably do well in Scotland, but which would also probably revive Ukip, or some new anti-Brexit group, in most other areas. The uncertainty that business and industry always claim is the worst thing would continue, as would the frustration of the large section of the electorate who just want it all over and done with one way or the other.

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Some Remainers would undoubtedly use it to push for a second referendum, and others simply to stop Brexit. These are in reality the same thing; there would be no one calling for a second referendum after we revoked Article 50. But even so, there are arguments for a long delay to be made on the side of those who favour Brexit.

The most compelling is simply that Mrs May’s deal is even worse than remaining, or the threat of remaining. It’s worse than a no-deal Brexit. It’s worse than the Norway, Canada and Switzerland options, no matter how many plus signs they have. (Norway + is, from a Leave point of view, worse than Norway alone). A delay would give time to do the things that the Prime Minister should have done two and a half years ago; first, find out what might get through the Commons, and then take that to the EU, not the other way round; and second, give equal priority throughout the negotiations to preparations for a no-deal exit, in case no agreement can be reached.

Demands for “indicative” votes are perfectly reasonable – even if they should have happened long ago, and there isn’t nearly enough time for them now. The one bonus of the almighty mess the PM’s landed us in is that it has at last impressed on most MPs that they won’t get exactly what they want.

A few, among both the Remain diehards and the ERG extremists, will presumably never be reconciled to anything. And the SNP will continue to see Brexit as a betrayal of Scotland, an opportunity for grievance-mongering and, with a bit of luck, another independence referendum.

But there is likely to be a possible majority for some softish Brexit, as long as it’s not altogether terrible, like Mrs May’s, or a total fantasy, like Jeremy Corbyn’s. The leading candidates are Canada +++, the offer Donald Tusk initially made, or Common Market 2.0, a variant of the EEA/EFTA option. Those who opposed Brexit, but accept the referendum result, are likely to see something like those as reasonable compromises. Since they exist for other countries, the EU would find it difficult to object to them. And Brexit supporters should recall that they were, in fact, the models offered by many leading figures in the Leave campaign, whatever they say now.

Given the splits in both Labour and the Conservatives, and the reluctance of Remainers to back the LibDems, I doubt whether a General Election would necessarily clarify anything. But the removal of Mrs May is essential, because she won’t countenance any sensible plan. Bowie’s song, about the Cold War and fall of communism – simpler political projects than implementing Brexit, apparently – described “walking the dead”. We’re not going to get any further forward until we stop doing that, and if it means waiting, so be it.