It is not often I agree with Times columnist Matthew Parris, but one thing he’s consistently got right is the successful subversion of Brexit, about which he’s predictably gleeful.

He was right again on Saturday – Brexiteers may have won the vote but they have lost the war. He wrote: ‘Hardliners are suffering death by a thousand cuts and seem to have no stomach to stand and fight a super-soft exit.’

Using an angling metaphor, he describes their disastrous ‘biding our time’ strategy. Instead of landing the fish, they’ve lost control of the line. Worse, they flunked their opportunity to take back control – not once, not twice but three times – and to walk away, not just from the talks but from facing up to the permanent liability that Mrs May has become.

Unless they act soon it will indeed be too late for their dream of a Britain unbound, as Parris gloats.  For with each opportunity missed to put their marker down, Brexit sinks inexorably below the horizon. He asks: Do they not see it is urgent?

He is right. For if the British team cannot see that Barnier is winning the negotiations, they must be blind, or certainly deluded. They should not need the Financial Times to tell them why their charm offensive in Germany won’t work, or why ‘piece by piece, their vision is coming apart’.

Parris is brutal, but he is only spelling out what we know. Nominal Brexit, or Brexit in name only, is the destination we are moving towards, thanks to the Tory Brexiteers’ successive failures of nerve: ‘In death by a thousand modest adjustments, which is the bridge too far? Where is the battleground on which to make their stand?’

TCW readers know exactly where it is. The only ground is the hard non-negotiable one – on which opportunities to stand firm have come and gone.

The first chance our risk-averse Brexiteers flunked (self-interest and individual political opportunism no doubt playing its destructive part) was to ditch Mrs May after her catastrophic election gamble. Next to be shirked was her Florence speech, and the increasingly desperate money offers to bring the EU to the trade table. Finally came Mrs May’s promise to the Irish of full alignment before Christmas. What did we see n each case but miserable surrender. She crossed line after line and, like Peter, thrice the Brexiteers denied all knowledge.

Now they appear to have consented to a reshuffle that Dan Hodges says has one purpose only, to keep Mrs May barricaded in Number Ten, and to support the ambitions of one person only, Mrs May, who has no intention of quitting as PM of her own accord.

Had the Tory Brexiteers actually wanted to crown Corbyn as May’s successor and wave goodbye to British freedom, they could not have done a better job. You have to wonder at not just their failure of nerve – hard and soft Brexiteers alike – but of comprehension: their failure to grasp why either the French or the Germans were never going to negotiate a civil exit for Britain, no matter how many times the referendum was run and won.

In Where We Are – The State of Britain Now , conservative philosopher Roger Scruton explains why this is the case. Even if Brexit were backed by 90 per cent of the population, France and Germany could not soften their stance.

The bond between Germany and EU, he explains, is an existential one. Anything that threatens this bond will be met by a life-and-death struggle, and Brexit threatens it. Britain’s rejection of the EU project threatens the Germans’ new identity, which replaces one so tainted that it had to be ‘set aside as an object of shame and repudiation’, meaning that they have never been able to mourn their losses or heal the wounds of war. Their new path – the idea of Europe as an inclusive project – ‘has to work to the full if they are to be who they are now’. Now the British have set an example that threatens their very being.

Ever-closer union is equally necessary to the French, says Scruton, though for different reasons. Three successive invasions have left a residue of fear which German reunification did not help. The euro was Mitterrand’s bid to equalise power with Germany following Germany’s alarming reassumption of the status as the greatest continental power. Furthermore the statist economy of France can compete far more easily with a Britain locked into the EU regulations that constrain both countries.

This is the reality that Tory Brexiteers must weigh up fast. They can’t kid themselves any longer that their barque can be steered between the Scylla of Corbyn and the Charybdis of the Tory Remain establishment towards a Brexit shore with May at the helm. That way is doomed to send them on to the rocks. And there will be nothing to salvage. End of Brexit, end of Government and end of Tory Party.

That’s why they (Davis, Gove and Johnson in particular) have no choice but to force a vote of no confidence in Mrs May and choose a candidate prepared to set out a negotiating stall for a hard Brexit and be ready to walk away from the EU in March next year. It is the only principled route forward..

They can’t keep ignoring the battle over what their party stands for – a British Brexit party or a ‘modern’ technocratic, globalist, corporatist outfit for the elite (the Anywheres, as David Goodhart describes them).

If they believe in Brexit, freedom and democracy, they have no choice.