LAST Saturday should have been the first day of the Brexit era, when the UK left the EU and either the oceans would turn to lemonade, as in Charles Fourier’s theory of socialism, or we would descend into a post-apocalyptic dystopia like something out of Cormac McCarthy.

Accordingly, in the spirit of research, I arranged to go across the Channel to find out which of these futuristic visions had come to pass. Well, no, not really. I had to go anyway, for reasons we needn’t go into. But since I did cross the Channel last Saturday, I can report that it’s much the same as it was before.

Far from the freight lorries being backed up from Dover to the Dartford Crossing and the Kentish populace hunting in the hedgerows for rats to eat, I zipped briskly to the Eurotunnel terminal where they waved me straight on to an earlier train than the one I had booked. So promptly, in fact, that I didn’t have time to stop and have a cigarette and a cup of coffee, which was actually rather annoying.

Ah, you may say, as if you were George Osborne, I may have predicted that it would all be terribly difficult, the economy would crash, unemployment would rise, and travel would be impossible as soon as we voted to leave the EU, but Brexit hasn’t happened yet. The dystopian nightmare will start shortly.

Perhaps it will. But we’ll never know whether the predictions would have been correct if the subsequent circumstances are different, as they always are. All we know is that those who predicted immediate and total economic meltdown following a Leave vote have so far been proved wrong.

Political meltdown is a different matter. But that has less to do with the journey than the driver. Imagine that, instead of me (an excellent driver), the trip had been in the control of someone – call her Theresa – who couldn’t drive, and was blind and extremely stubborn to boot. We’re hardly out the driveway before the satnav tells her to do a U-turn, and the passengers suggest we do something about the flat tyre, and put some petrol in the car.

Theresa’s having none of it. “No fuel is better than bad fuel,” she says, pouring diesel into the petrol tank, before heading towards Aberdeen. After an eternity, when we’re thoroughly lost, the passengers take a vote. Some think the quickest way to France is via Fort William, while others maintain we should head for Cardiff. A few think we should turn back, and though they’re the minority, are shouting very loudly about it.

This, more or less, is where we are, except that Theresa is now consulting Jeremy, who has an Ordnance Survey map of New Zealand that he insists will put us right. It’s clear that we don’t have enough time to make it to our booked crossing, but some of the passengers say we should just drive off the nearest cliff at full speed, because the car, being a British Leyland model, will have no difficulty finding its own way from the Firth of Clyde to Calais. Aiming for a later crossing will just play into the hands of those who never wanted to go at all.

As it turns out, putting Oliver Letwin and Yvette Cooper in the driving seat didn’t get us any further forward. And it is true that those who want to reverse the referendum result have tried everything they can to obstruct the journey. But there is now a case, even for those who are keen to leave, for a reasonably long delay.

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One reason is that a short delay doesn’t give enough time to fix the Withdrawal Agreement, which is so shoddy it’s beyond saving anyway. As most of us have worked out, Brexit is now a process rather than an event. And, because of the Prime Minister’s chronic incompetence, we’re utterly unprepared for leaving without a deal. The fact that her deal is even worse, and that the Commons seems unable to come up with any other viable proposal, is not an argument either for ignoring the original decision, or storming ahead with no regard for the consequences.

Of course, whether we can get a long enough delay to do all the things that Mrs May should have done two and a half years ago is not our decision to make. It would be understandable if the EU did not want the uncertainty to drag out – especially since it would mean that new British MEPs (of goodness only knows what political colour, but probably not a useful one) would have to be elected, and a new Prime Minister (again, who knows who?) would be starting the whole awful process again.

No matter how often and pointlessly MPs vote to rule out no deal – the one thing that, as the default, can’t be ruled out – we’re still heading for April 12. And rather surprisingly, the latest polls suggest that if delay were not an option, more people would opt for a no deal exit than to remain.

We would have to give the EU a reason, though. A General Election would do, but there is little public appetite for it, and not much indication, given the divisions in most parties, that it would improve matters. Another excuse could be a referendum, but again, despite strident calls from those who want to reverse the first vote, the majority don’t want one, and it would almost certainly – no matter its result – make matters worse.

There is a case, though, for a confirmatory referendum, but only if the choice is between whichever deal is finally agreed by Parliament and leaving without a deal. The EU might welcome that, because they would at least know what could get through the Commons, and because they don’t want a No Deal Brexit any more than most people outside the ERG.

Despite the risks of No Deal for the UK, its material effects would, overall, be worse for the EU – though the pain there would be spread across 27 countries, and thus much less acute. But there’s no point in delaying unless any attempt to find a way out of this – obviously, without Theresa May – is conducted alongside preparations for leaving with no deal. Whether we like it or not, that could well be our final destination.