A COMPETITION recently named people's favourite comical catch phrases. The winner was Victor Meldrew's 'I don't believe it', and the runners up were 'don't panic' from Dad's Army, and 'simples' from the Compare the Market adverts.

This may all have been influenced by Brexit. We mutter the Meldrew phrase increasingly often, and are told by the government not to panic over no deal. Meanwhile when it comes to getting a deal the prime minister thinks 'simples' applies and that from 27 to one down, he can still win the day.

At the Conservative party conference this week, Boris Johnson 'unveiled' his do or die offer to the EU. Not simples to deliver, many observers saw it as a simplistic attempt to solve a complex equation. His first challenge is to sell it to other EU member states cynical about his intentions. Beyond that, he has the challenge of selling it to an even more sceptical House of Commons. There the question will be whether his antics of last week, including what was deemed intemperate language, have irretrievably poisoned the political well against him.

Back in the 1990s, I remember Johnson writing a piece from Brussels about the air being 'redolent with the smell of fudge' as another dodgy deal was thrashed out by agriculture ministers. I thought then this was a great piece of writing, but this week that smell of fudge was over the Tory party conference. What is on offer is the Theresa May withdrawal agreement, with cosmetic changes to the backstop. These are based around a form of an All Ireland free trade area for agriculture and food, which will keep the single market in operation on the island. There would then by light touch customs checks for other goods.

This looks like a fudge, and to mix metaphors a ship unlikely to float. For agriculture however it has the potential to solve some problems. For all of the UK it should allow normal trade with the EU-27 during a long transition period, when a free trade deal would be worked out between the UK and EU-27. This would have former farm commissioner, Phil Hogan, on the other side of the table. He loathes Brexit, but is a pragmatist who knows a deal is essential.

This should take some of the cliff edge pressure for October 31 off the farming industry. For Northern Ireland it would be an even bigger case of business as usual as it would effectively remain in the EU single market for agriculture and food. This is a backstop by another name, the only difference being that it is time limited in theory.

Looking at this and the opprobrium heaped on Theresa May, many will question whether the end on offer justifies the means. This is little different to what we could have had months ago with a lot less rancour in Brussels and at Westminster. It is however a solution that might deliver what would be seen as Brexit. More importantly it could be worked in a way that would avoid the damage to agriculture from a no deal outcome. Farm unions have described this as potentially catastrophic, and that is even more so in livestock dependent Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The UK plan is just an offer to trade. Despite Johnson claiming it is a take it or leave it option for the EU, he knows that is not the case. It is the opening salvo in what will be a short, but potentially bloody, battle from now till the EU heads of state meeting on October 17. If this delivers a deal – and that remains a fairly big if at this stage – it will come back to the House of Commons.

There, this week, the parties including the SNP, failed to deliver a no confidence motion, because of opposition to Jeremy Corbyn as a caretaker prime minister. That is not going to change, so this is a bit of a damp squib. The bigger question is whether some in opposition will support a Johnson fudge, on grounds that it is better than no deal and offers scope for further negotiations with the EU-27.

That will not be easy given how Johnson has behaved, and the knowledge that he will become electoral gold if he can been seen to have delivered a deal. Big decisions lie ahead, and whatever they are the smell of fudge will linger for a long time.