AS Boris Johnson laid out his plan at political Cabinet on Thursday, it quickly became apparent how much was out of his control.
He said he still hoped the European Union would offer only the shortest of extensions, forcing Parliament to get on with it. But Johnson admitted the EU was inclined to offer an extension to the end of January and that Emmanuel Macron was fighting a lonely battle against it.
Earlier in the day, the Elyse told No10 the French President was too isolated on the issue to veto a longer extension.
In a sign of how much he is relying on Macron, Johnson then pleadingly recited the opening line of the carol Oh come, oh come Emmanuel to ministers.
One of No10s hopes is that EU leaders will see the Opposition refusing both a general election and to pass the withdrawal agreement as is and come round to Macrons way of thinking: That there is little point in offering this country a three-month extension as Parliament will just waste the time.
One No10 source predicts that the sight of the opposition blocking an election will push the EU towards either the Macron position or a very long extension.
In a sign that Johnsons gambit is having some success, the EU is waiting until Parliament has voted on an election before deciding what length of extension to offer.
If this doesnt work, the Government hopes it can shame Labour into having an election.
The Chief Whip told those present that they would make Labour look like right d***s if they didnt vote for an election.
But not everyone is convinced this will work.
One of those present tells me that if they were a Labour MP, they would rather look like a d*** than lose their seat.
I understand, though, No10 intends to bring multiple votes to try to force an election. One Cabinet minister who has discussed this strategy with Johnson tells me: Every time (Labour vote this down), it advertises that they are not prepared to support Brexit or have an election.
It reinforces the sense that he is the only person trying to get things done.
Johnson himself has told allies that if Labour rejects his offer to pass the withdrawal agreement and have an election, then it will be an effective demonstration that this Parliament wont and cant break the current deadlock.
Proving this Parliament cant break the deadlock is one thing. Actually breaking it is quite another.
One of those present on Thursday tells me Johnson seemed genuinely angry at Labours refusal to give him an election and betrayed a sense hes cornered.
Something must happen before January 31, though.
If it doesnt, the threat of No Deal will be back on the table.
And if the UK has wasted this extension, European patience may snap and they might not offer another one.
One senior Cabinet minister tells me there will be an attempt to use an SO24 (the process to trigger an emergency debate) to put the Withdrawal Agreement Bill before the House. This would involve the rebel group around Oliver Letwin trying to bring the deal back to Parliament so that the Commons could vote on it. But it is far from clear whether this approach could work.
Another possibility is the Opposition bringing down the Government. If they did this, they would have to agree on an alternative prime minister or end up in a general election.
British politics looks more deadlocked than ever today. Johnsons hope is that pressure from voters will eventually break this deadlock and sweep away the obstacles to him passing his Brexit deal.
But he will almost certainly have to put up with a delay both to Brexit and the election before he can get his way.
Cold feet on winter poll tactics
NO one at political Cabinet spoke against the idea of a December election. But privately, several ministers have grave doubts about the wisdom of this strategy.
One frets: Who jumps out of bed on a cold December morning to vote for the Government?
There is a view that the Government could have used getting the Commons to approve its deal in broad terms as a spur for pressing on with the legislation, bringing a new timetable to the Commons after MPs rejected its initial offer of three days debate. One complains that the election idea is a massive distraction.
Why arent we using the momentum of getting a second reading? they ask.
On the backbenches there are also concerns. One senior backbencher tells me: Well vote for an election with great reluctance.
He worries that being seen to try not very hard to get the bill through undercuts the new Tory message that they are the deal party.
The other great worry is that while the public mood is with Boris Johnson now, that could change. One minister warns it is a huge risk to have a winter election at a very febrile time, adding: Weve no idea what public opinion will be on polling day.
Lifeline for axed rebel MPs
IF Boris Johnson gets his way and theres a general election this year, what happens to those Tories who lost the whip for voting for the Benn Act?
At Thursdays gathering, Nicky Morgan argued that the party needed clarity on what would happen to those who had lost the whip but had voted with the Government against the Letwin amendment and for the Brexit deal and the accelerated timetable for passing it.
Boris Johnson has previously been adamant that he would not allow any of the 21 to stand as Tory candidates at the next election. But I am told he made sympathetic noises in response to Morgans point.
Inside Boris Johnsons circle, theres the beginnings of a shift in attitude. There is a feeling that those who have consistently voted with the Government in recent weeks are worth bringing back in.
With a deal secured, the issue that led to their rebellion has been addressed.
At the same time, several of these MPs would be better placed to hold their seat for the Tories than any other candidate.
AT political Cabinet on Thursday, Boris Johnson pointed at the Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry and said Kwasi, a reference to Kwasi Kwarteng the Energy Minister.
Cabinet ministers were baffled at how the PM confused the two.
They dont look at all alike.
After Berry deadpanned, An easy mistake to make, the room fell about laughing.
Cancelled budget is set for return
I UNDERSTAND there WILL be a Budget after all. It just wont be on November 6.
A Budget would offer the Tories a chance to outline some of their more popular economic policies and highlight plans to boost infrastructure.
If the Opposition voted it down, it would make the case for the election Boris Johnson so desperately wants.
- James Forsyth is political editor of The Spectator.