IN ONE of the classic episodes of the political satire 'Yes, Minister', fictional UK cabinet minister Jim Hacker battled Brussels over non-existent plans to ban the British sausage.

Forty years on – yes it really was that long ago the series was broadcast – we can swap the threat to the sausage for imports of chlorinated chicken. Like the ban that never was, this is a classic piece of diversionary politics.

People are now so focussed on the chicken that they are missing the real threat. Lots of other products have equal potential to undermine UK standards, destroy hopes of exporting to the EU-27 and lower the quality of what people eat.

The chicken issue is a non event, as is importing hormone-treated beef from the United States. We have no reason to bring in American chicken, since we are already importing cheaper products from countries like Thailand and Brazil. These should be raising greater concern, but the arguments are more complex and less headline-grabbing than an image of chickens being dipped in baths of bleach.

The trade issue is not about single products. It is much wider and a lot more insidious as a threat to the industry. This was well pointed out by the NFU president, Minette Batters, at the union's annual general meeting. But this is an issue over which the farming lobby is finding it difficult to engage politicians in London, or indeed the general public. The beef industry was pilloried in January for the threat it allegedly posed to the environment and the fallout from that is still happening. Yet we are contemplating policies that would undermine food quality and provenance simply because the government is desperate for the oxygen of publicity from landing big trade deals, particularly with the US.

Debate is being stifled by the massive majority the government has at Westminster. It does not really matter what people say, since it can and will get its own way. On top of this is the influence of the controversial adviser, Dominic Cummings. As a key figure behind the leave campaign, Cummings is more interested in the purity of the Brexit that is achieved than in outcomes that would minimise damage to UK businesses. Those at risk certainly include agriculture, since a 'pure' Brexit would diminish opportunities in Europe and open the market to cheap imports, albeit probably not chlorine-washed chicken or hormone-treated beef.

Driving a pure Brexit is easy for those that want this when Boris Johnson is more interested in sound bites than thought out policies. This was underlined when it emerged Cummings had ordered officials to limit information to two sides of a sheet of paper. That is a good theory, but Brexit and trade are complex issues that cannot be boiled down to sound bites. The government is not listening to what people say if it does not fit with its narrative.

On trade with the EU, it is seeking to play the hard man, despite coming to the table with the weaker hand, based on population alone. Minette Batters was right this week when she asked why people would want a trade deal to mean lower standards. That is exactly what the trade commissioner, Phil Hogan, has said on a number of occasions.

The sentiments are right, but they do not fit with the government's narrative so will almost certainly be ignored. The EU has now published its negotiating mandate for the trade talks and there are no surprises in it. It is understandable that it wants its standards upheld by the UK, and it is disappointing the UK is not making that a pre-condition for all trade negotiations.

Brussels is right in saying that someone needs to assess if rules are being broken, so if the UK rejects the European court it must come up with an alternative. The EU is however wrong in linking continued access of British waters for fishing to other issues, while Greek demands to link a deal to the return of the Elgin Marbles are ridiculous. Some realism is needed in Brussels, but that is even more so in London.

The claim that the UK can be treated like Canada lacks logic. Canada is a small exporter to the EU, while many UK businesses are pan-European in how they operate. If the talks are to make progress – and it is the UK that is setting a tight timetable – these crazy ideas must be sidelined and the sooner that happens the better.