IT IS hard to envisage Brexit ever being a bigger mess than it is now – but that would be the case if, after it finally happens, we look back wistfully to our days in the EU. That could be the outcome if the UK economy falters because we leave with no firm trade deal in place.

There is a big danger in hoping this would be solved by new trade deals with the rest of the world. In reality the UK, with a population of 65 million, is a small scale trade prospect for most countries, compared for example to the EU which will still have over 450 million consumers after the UK departure.

Many of the countries the government cites as trade prospects, such as Japan and China, already have trade deals or protocols with the EU that we are free to use as a member state. For agriculture the big danger remains that trade deals will be bought by accepting tariff-free food imports. In any event, given the incompetence of how the Brexit negotiation has been handled, it is hard to believe ministers or civil servants have what it takes to deliver successful trade deals.

In agriculture the attraction of leaving the EU was to escape regulations. The CAP is a bureaucratic instrument, but there has always been a sense that it is implemented more rigorously here than elsewhere in the EU. As an example just compare the regulation burden here to the situation in Ireland or France.

The worry is it will be the same officials that gold-plated EU regulations that will be designing and implementing new support policies for the UK. If, as seems likely, these are based around the delivery of public goods – economist-speak for environmental policies – they have to be regulation heavy. If the result is a policy more draconian than the greening and cross compliance aspects of the CAP, farmers will have every right to be disappointed with Brexit.

My fear is that we are on a road to more red tape, and no politician has put up any argument to counter this belief.

It is easy to write off the European Commission as an ineffective bureaucracy that produces little more than red tape and knows little about real world markets. There is certainly truth in that view, but in agriculture our views are often coloured by the effectiveness of the current farm commissioner. Phil Hogan is quite simply someone who understands agriculture, as would be expected of an Irish commissioner. His legacy will include legislation to tackle unfair trade practices along the food supply chain.

However the Commission also deserves credit for its handling of the hangover from the 2015/2016 dairy crisis, in the shape of over 350,000 tonnes of skimmed milk powder in intervention stores. This is now down to 22,000 tonnes and crucially this was achieved without slashing prices and undermining dairy markets. That is quite an achievement and Hogan and his officials deserve credit for how they handled this. Market management is not an easy task, but Brussels deserves credit for the various market observatories it has established to ensure that farmers and others have access to independent market information.

I am not convinced that UK officials, confronted with a a big product stockpile, political pressure and challenging global markets would display the same skills. The difference lies in how the key officials are appointed in Brussels. Each commissioner builds his own cabinet or teams of advisers. They are there to meet specific objectives.

In the UK ministers only bring political advisers with them, and they are committed to politics rather than practicalities. As a result decisions are often taken by people with no experience of the commercial world, having mostly joined the civil service straight from university. This is perhaps why so many big scale UK projects end up with massive budget overruns, or in the case of computer projects written off after millions have been spent. Over the handling of the recent milk powder mountain, one reason for success was that Hogan's chief adviser in Brussels came from the the Irish dairy industry.

The big challenge with Brexit is to have it implemented in a way that will see neither leave or remain voters having any regrets that they are no longer part of the EU. As things stand, that still looks an unattainable dream.