FINALLY, we have it in black and white: according to the legal advice which Theresa May so desperately did not want to be published, the PM’s Brexit deal could result in the UK becoming stuck in protracted rounds of negotiations with the EU. The advice says the UK could not force the EU to conclude an agreement bringing the backstop to an end, meaning the arrangement could continue indefinitely. Article 50 allowed the UK to leave the EU, but there is no provision for the UK to pull out of the withdrawal agreement.

This is essentially what many Brexiters feared would be the case, but it is a scenario which the Government has repeatedly sought to play down. To be fair to the Government, the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, who wrote the six-page document, had already conceded before its publication that the UK could be forced to remain indefinitely in the backstop and Mrs May herself had said the UK did not have a unilateral right to pull out of the backstop. To that extent the full legal advice does not say anything we did not know already.

However, just look at the big differences in emphasis. The Government has been insisting all along that the UK and the EU do not intend to use the backstop and that even if it is necessary, it would only be temporary. But the legal advice puts it in much starker terms. Whatever the intentions of the UK and the EU, it says, the backstop would carry on even when negotiations on a future trading relationship have broken down.

The fact that the legal advice spells out the truth in this way, and confirms Northern Ireland would be treated differently to the rest of the UK, explains why Mrs May was opposed to its publication, but parliament was right to insist. The only sadness is that we have ended up where we are. Two of the great tropes of British politics in the last 40 years – Northern Ireland and Europe – have led us to this constitutional crisis, but Parliament’s show of strength – welcome though it is – has not provided us with what we all really need: a clear way forward on Brexit.