FARMERS CAN see through Brexit bluster and this was apparent when politicians set out their Brexit stalls at the Oxford Farming Conference.

Like a lot of other people, farmers are rightly sceptical about the "jam tomorrow" future being promised. They know it is, to say the least, an uphill battle to get the Withdrawal Bill through Westminster and that there is no plan B if this fails.

That scepticism was boosted this week when the government tried to stage a traffic jam in the south of England with too few lorries, despite paying drivers £550 a day just to turn up; it was further boosted when it emerged that a multi-million pound contract to keep supplies running by hiring ferries had gone to a company with no ships.

If this was a political satire on television it would be deemed too far-fetched. Of all the comments at Oxford that struck a chord, the description of Westminster as a ‘fish tank full of lunatics’ probably topped the bill. That came from an investment specialist who had nothing to do with agriculture, but who hit the nail on the head when he said Brexit had made the government and politicians in general an ‘international embarrassment’.

To be fair to Michael Gove, he set out to sell a brave new future for agriculture, if politicians backed the Withdrawal Bill. It was interesting that his focus on productivity improvements was more about computers and robots than the more controversial aspects of science used elsewhere in the world, but not in the EU.

His views were a victory for Cabinet collective responsibility, but a long way from the message to farmers he and his fellow ‘Leave’ enthusiasts pushed in 2016. Then they made it all seem so easy, with nothing but positives about leaving the CAP to create a globally competitive UK industry, with decisions devolved rather than taken in Brussels. No-one said then that the price could be losing our closest and best paying market for many agricultural products.

At the same conference George Eustice, the junior Defra minister who now seemingly favours the UK remaining in the European Economic Area with Norway, tried to make much of post-Brexit export opportunities for agriculture.

However the examples he cited were less than stellar. The government is desperate for a trade deal with the United States, but the only prospect Eustice cited was for organic cheese. Other markets are speculative, and sheep to the Middle East and North Africa will not make up for the valuable French market. In any event profits would be slim when competing with southern hemisphere suppliers.

Ironically other export examples included markets like Japan that are part of trade deals with the EU that the UK will be walking away from if it leaves the customs union.

The views of the Oxford attendees will not have given the government cause to believe it has convinced the Tory faithful. Polls showed that a majority thought the Brexit on the cards now would not see exports grow and the industry would continue to rely on the EU-27 as its prime market. Just 10% thought a ‘no deal’ Brexit would be a good idea, while 62% wanted to stay in the EU.

While a poll is a snapshot that reflects cynicism about the mess politicians are making of Brexit, that seems a big change from the 2016 referendum vote. Then the reckoning was that 70% of farmers wanted to leave the EU. Reality seems to have changed many views, which is presumably why there is political weight behind calls for a second referendum.

What is happening at Westminster is being watched by the EU-27 with amazement that a global power like the UK can turn such a crucial decision into a political farce.

The claim of Leave advocates has always been that the EU-27 needs us more than we need them. However, current events are persuading many that they will be glad to leave the UK to its internal squabbles over Europe. They will get on with business, a new Commission and European parliament and use the strength of a market of 470 million people, after Brexit, to make more global trade deals.

As to countries with farming industries facing problems, such as Ireland, the EU is prepared to dig deep to insulate them from pain. Sadly no-one is making any such promises to farmers here.