IT has been dubbed “Operation Fig Leaf,” a promised move by Brussels that will help Theresa May push her Brexit Plan through the Commons molasses flood.

A Cabinet source claimed the European Commission had before Christmas privately made it very clear that there would be a late present for the Prime Minister; “something helpful coming in the week before the vote” ie next week.

Yet mention of a “fig leaf” hardly inspires confidence that come January 15 Mrs May will hold a piece of paper in her hand and declare peace in our time; the precedent is not a happy one.

Downing St was keeping things close to its chest, declining to give any details about who Mrs May had spoken to over Christmas. But it is thought that one of the key conversations was with Germany’s Angela Merkel and on Friday the PM chatted to Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission President.

The discussion was “friendly,” Brussels said, and the two key players decided to “stay in touch”.

Talk to any Tory MP and they insist: “Nothing has changed.” The PM is in as big a Brexit hole as she was on December 10 when she dramatically pulled the vote.

“It couldn’t happen again,” declared one loyal backbencher. “She is going down to defeat.” What then?

The thinking is the PM’s continental conversations have involved coming up with a Plan B; a tweaked offer. On the back of a Commons defeat, Mr Juncker would emerge to declare magnanimously that Brussels had sought to give a helping hand to poor old misguided Britain, providing clarity on the backstop’s timescale to reassure the likes of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists that it would indeed have an end date. Another Commons vote would quickly take place.

But would Juncker's new offer be enough? Almost certainly not. The DUP says the May Plan threatens the Union. The Scottish Tories say a no-deal threatens the Union. All the while Nicola Sturgeon watches patiently; her finger hovering over the independence button.

“The two key people here are Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds,” mused one Tory backbencher. “Satisfy them and the ERG group would fall in behind.” A mighty ask.

Mrs May is due on the BBC’s Marr Show on Sunday when she will talk up her Brexit Plan, raise fears of what would happen if colleagues did not support it and highlight the preparations Whitehall is making for a no-deal; a no-deal, incidentally, that taxpayers are spending £4 billion on, that Cabinet ministers have said would never happen and, if it did, would be “catastrophic” for Britain’s economy and that several of them would resign over.

As the memory of mince pies and Christmas pudding fades, the madness of the Brexit process is about to engulf us once again. Big time.