IT’S like the story about the traveller who wants directions to be told by the village worthy, “Och, if you’re going there, I wouldna start fae here.”

Certainly, it wasn’t optimal to begin with a Remain Prime Minister who took an obtuse view of what Leave voters wanted (it wasn’t an end to immigration), triggered Article 50 before considering whether a hard Brexit or some middle way – Norway minus, Canada plus, or some modified Efta or EEA position – would be better, pointlessly threw away a parliamentary majority, then took two years to come up with a plan the Cabinet could agree on, to discover immediately that two of them couldn’t.

Still, they were only the Brexit Secretary and the Foreign Secretary, who may have reached their decisions because Theresa May treated them as peripheral. Despite his letter, David Davis’s resignation came not because the Chequers proposals crossed his “red lines” by much, but because he was cut out of a say in them.

Instead, Mrs May entrusted her plan to a civil servant, Olly Robbins, her Europe Advisor and former Permanent Secretary at the Department for Exiting the EU, essentially sidelining her minister. That shows such bad judgment that it should be (and may soon be) grounds for a challenge to her leadership.

Cue Boris. The fact that the Foreign Secretary’s departure was, apparently, announced by Number 10 yesterday afternoon while he was still writing his resignation letter corresponds with my memories of waiting around for his column to arrive, so that I could edit it. My personal experience doesn’t enable me, alas, to divine the exact rationale for his leaving, though I suspect that the future of Boris Johnson figures large in it.

At any rate, here is where we are now, though the problem is partly the other way round. The Brexit referendum determined where the UK wanted to go from, but not its destination, beyond the cheery expectation that it would be broad sunlit uplands where democracy and prosperity would flower unchecked.

This is true even for those who voted Remain. That was no more a vote for the status quo than “Leave” determined which form of Brexit we would get: the EU is, by its own definition, an evolving project of “ever closer union” with – as we’re now constantly told – strict insistence on certain fundamentals.

The fact that there are observably everywhere exceptions to these unbreachable principles is either one of those mysteries, like “man is born free but everywhere in chains”, or indicates that the statement was nonsense to start with, like “sheep are born carnivorous but everywhere eat grass”.

But let’s assume “Brexit means Brexit”, whatever that means, and consider the possible destinations. Some people argue for a leaving which amounts to staying, like my mother when she says “Goodbye” on the telephone and then embarks on a two-hour account of what the rest of the family has been up to for the last month. One suspects that, for example, Anna Soubry and Sir Keir Starmer have this in mind when they talk of respecting the vote while staying in the Customs Union, Single Market, ECJ, CAP, CFP, Eurodac, Enisa, Eurojust, Uncle Euratom Cobley and Europol.

Others, like Jacob Rees-Mogg and the European Reform Group (ERG), seem keen to tell the EU that we don’t want to play with them any more, are keeping our £38 billion ball and going off to play under WTO rules. These attitudes, and the split they represent in the Tory Party (though Labour MPs have their own equally intractable divisions), has been compared with the Corn Law movement.

Though it was Robert Peel (a Tory) who finally did repeal the Corn Laws, and the measure was proved right, Conservatives might also remember that it split the party so comprehensively that it took almost 30 years before it recovered as a viable political force.

The Radical Whig, Cobden & Bright approach acknowledges that free trade has done more to increase prosperity than anything else in human history. But (like so many truths) it is a minority view. Free marketeers talk approvingly of “disruption” and Joseph Schumpeter’s “creative destruction”, but even if those forces are right in the long term – as history has shown them to be – the short-term costs and shocks are by no means negligible.

That may be why even Douglas Carswell, of all people, has expressed his puzzlement at ERG resistance to the proposals set out at Chequers, arguing that it is still recognisably leaving. More to the point, he and others who are relatively relaxed about compromises worry that setting red lines where the ERG wants them risks not getting any Brexit at all. This, obviously for different reasons, also seems to be the calculation of many Remainers unapologetically seeking a second referendum, who therefore want any other option to fail.

Michael Gove’s position when supporting (though in a rather lukewarm fashion) the Chequers plan on Sunday was, pragmatically, that detaching ourselves from the EU will take time and that some things – such as some ECJ supervision, or maintaining regulatory alignment in specified areas – may be a price worth paying in the short term. We can always decide, further down the line, that they are holding us back, or a bad deal, and renegotiate or withdraw from them then.

Mr Davis’s and Mr Johnson’s departure should not disguise the fact that the overwhelming problem with the Chequers proposal – tied up with its being the product of civil servants and technocratic politicians of the sort that, alas, Mrs May has turned out to be – is that it is no more than a wishlist. Delivering it might, in the end, satisfy Leavers, but just now it is merely an opening sally in negotiations against the EU, which will take it as a starting position, reject great chunks of it and ask for more.

Actually to get what the remains of the Cabinet have reluctantly agreed on, Mrs May should have sounded a little bit more like Mr Rees-Mogg making noises about WTO rules. If she could then get what the hard Brexiters call a sell-out, it might prove to be something for which most voters would happily settle.

Her current travails and her dismal performance in the Commons yesterday suggest that’s a very long shot. But then, the assumption she’ll still be secure in her post next week might be that, too.