THE PHRASE 'be careful what you wish for' has proved accurate over the years. Having clawed his way to be prime minister, Boris Johnson must be thinking that just about every day.

Not many people have been humiliated by the leader of the EU's second smallest member state. But the prime minister of Luxembourg, second only to Malta in the EU diminutive stakes, used his perfect English to make Johnson look like someone not prepared to debate Brexit in front of a potentially critical audience.

There are rights and wrongs about what happened – but the UK prime minister should have been ready to challenge claims that the UK has not yet put anything on paper as a workable alternative to the backstop. If this is true it is surprising, but in the Brexit debate nothing now really comes as a shock.

In management-speak, Johnson is talking the talk, but there is no evidence on any of his forays to European capitals that he is walking the walk. Until that happens, negotiations are a fantasy. He and those close to him seem to be spending more time working out ways to get around legislation making a 'no deal' departure on October 31 illegal than they are devoting to trying to get a deal.

The UK has always had a reputation in the EU for producing some of the best diplomats to sit around a table. This is certainly not the case now. This is not down to the officials who have been effective in Brussels for decades, but to the confused and mixed messages coming from the government.

Cabinet ministers must know that bluster and bluff will not win the day. The EU keeps asking for firm proposals, but what they are getting is political spin dressed up as a negotiating stance. The farce level meter went off the scale when Johnson likened himself to the Incredible Hulk breaking out of chains. This was puerile and left many people wondering what had happened to the UK's fabled expertise in negotiations. It also allowed Donald Tusk to mock Johnson as the 'incredible sulk' when he avoided the press conference in Luxembourg.

If political events were not so serious they would be funny, but instead they are driving concerns about what lies ahead.

Securing a minor concession on the backstop while accepting the withdrawal agreement is the only show in town for the government. It is making hard work of that negotiation. What is worrying, if something as simple as this is proving so difficult, is how the government will secure trade deals, not least with the EU and its new anti-Brexit trade commissioner in Phil Hogan.

The challenges of dealing with the EU, which wants a deal, will be dwarfed when it comes to global trade negotiations. With a population of 60 million, the UK has not got a lot to offer, compared for example to the EU with 500 million. That is the reality of trade negotiation arithmetic, and what has been happening with the EU is certainly not an example of how to stage a negotiation to secure a successful outcome.

One of the problems with Brexit is that it reduces our focus to a single issue. That is inevitable, given that everything else in agriculture will flow from whatever is finally agreed. Sometimes we need to zoom out for a wider view, and when we do that, one of the worries is the dilution of the power of the farming lobby when we leave the EU.

This week a campaign by Irish farmers forced major price and other concessions from beef processors and the government. This underlines the strength of the farming lobby in countries like Ireland and France, and indeed in some other EU-27 member states. In the past we gained from that. They pushed for outcomes from the EU and the UK had to implement them as part of the CAP.

The UK farming lobby knew how to play the game to secure those back door concessions and victories. This made up for having governments at Westminster, both Conservative and Labour, which have little interest in agriculture. They see it only as a vehicle to secure green votes from the public and not as a core UK industry. Outside the EU, whatever the Brexit deal may be, the loss of that wider political influence will insidiously undermine UK agriculture.