ALL POLITICIANS have defining moments in their careers. Whether the outcome is positive or negative, the decision in England to remove Covid restrictions, as the disease incidence is rising exponentially, will be a defining moment for Boris Johnson.

His insistence that 'freedom day' must happen by date rather than data has left him with nowhere to hide on this, should it go wrong. This is why defining moments make or break political reputations.

For Johnson, Covid was not the subject on which he wanted to define his success or otherwise as prime minister. His target was always Brexit – the delivery of a different type of freedom day. In general, and particularly in agriculture, Brexit success is entirely related to trade. The first challenge is for diplomacy to triumph over rhetoric to ensure a sound trading relationship with our nearest and biggest market in the EU.

Unfortunately, while he may have been a career diplomat, the unelected government minister in charge of relations with the EU, David Frost, is seemingly not keen on a diplomatic solution. Over the complex and sensitive Northern Ireland protocol he is, to paraphrase the old insurance advertisement, turning a drama into a crisis.

Threatening to walk away from an international deal that the government signed, fully aware of the problems it would bring from creating a border down the Irish Sea, is not going to work. Frost and Johnson do not want to compromise over accepting EU food standards, but as a single country with a population of 60 million, against 27 with a population closer to 500 million, they are not well placed to win.

Until diplomacy triumphs, proper trade will remain an elusive goal and the farming and fishing industries will continue to pay the price for failure, in dislocated trade between Northern Ireland and Scotland.

It is however in the global arena that the real challenge of trade and Brexit lies. Size will always be a problem for the UK. It is a trade minnow, albeit it one with some great skills across the board. It is not easy to find a place in a world of big trading blocs. The government wants to be part of the Trans Pacific Trade Partnership, but this offers little to agriculture – and certainly nothing like the benefits from sorting out a proper trading relationship with the EU.

In this area it was clear from a recent European Commission briefing that it has its trade sights set on the same countries the UK is pursuing for trade deals. These include Chile, Indonesia, India and crucially Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

Many of these are prime targets for the UK, but a big difference of approach is that from the outset the EU has made clear a key priority is to protect its food industry, especially meat and dairy products. Under the Biden administration in the US, the EU says it is hopeful of shaking off the Trump years with a new, more positive approach based on shared goals around issues such as the environment.

While the UK has shown itself willing to open its market to low or zero tariff food imports, that is not a game the EU is willing to play to the same degree. Its scale means countries still want a deal and Brussels says it is hopeful that by the end of the year it will be into the endgame of a new free trade agreement with New Zealand.

This is the harsh reality for Boris Johnson of trying to make global trade one of the defining successes of Brexit. This is an area where sound-bites, such as his 'freedom day' in England, are not enough to deliver success. Trade is about scale and diplomacy and those are not easy challenges. Diplomacy can be improved, but scale cannot be changed and that weakens the UK in the trade deal battle. That applies to numbers in terms of population but also for the United States to the strategic importance of the UK compared to some key countries and NATO members in the EU.

This is why defining moments are politically dangerous. Lifting Covid restrictions in England is a short term high wire act, but the jury will be out for a long time yet on whether in trade terms Brexit is the type of politically defining moment one of its staunchest advocates wants as as a measure of success.