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Theresa May needs us to fear no-deal Brexit, but not too much

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Tomorrow the PM will hold a three-hour cabinet just after breakfast to make decisions to protect us all from the more extreme and painful consequences of a no-deal Brexit.

Her government will also publish a bunch of papers (30 of them) advising us and businesses on how to take whatever evasive action is in our power to ensure minimal disruption if there were an abrupt rupture in commercial, legal, medical, transport and security arrangements with the rest of the EU.

She has a dual ambition: to show the rest of the EU that although we'd rather have a yes-deal Brexit, we're ready for and unfazed by no deal, such that Barnier and Brussels would be unwise to call our bluff; and to fulfill her duty to us to ensure we could get our medicines, we could travel without serious hiccoughs, our food stocks would not run low, businesses could still obtain vital parts in a timely fashion, and so on.

There is however a potentially lethal conflict of interest for the PM in demonstrating the UK has little fear of departing the EU in a non-consensual fashion: those of her Brexiter MPs in the ERG, whom I disclosed last night were conspiring to force her resignation, would have even less compunction about bundling her out the window.

Jacob Reed-Mogg chairs the European Research Group Credit: PA

The point is that if the collateral damage of a coup against her leadership in the autumn was a hiatus in Brexit talks that were to raise the risk of no-deal, this would be little deterrent if the nation were prepped and ready for no-deal.

For what it's worth, many of the Brexiter plotters even now would prefer no deal to Chequers: there is a short-term economic cost they are explicit they are prepared to pay, for the putative freedom and long-term economic benefits they are convinced would be Brexit's dividends.

And if the PM had already talked the nation into assuming the brace position for 29 March 2019, why would they retain the services of a PM in whom they have lost all trust - whom they see as a traitor to the Brexit cause?

Which is why, for her own survival, the PM somehow has to paint no-deal as non-lethal but best avoided, a Brexit that is much worse than mumps but not as bad as leprosy.