IN THE midst of the coronavirus panic and with the economy in an accelerating free-fall, Boris Johnson found time to stress that come what may, the transition period to leave the EU would end in December.

I doubt if anyone other than his maverick adviser, Dominic Cummings, and a few stalwarts demanding a 'pure' Brexit are interested. Most people and all business are in no state to face more change and uncertainty. Leaving the EU without the time or resources to make a good deal could only add to that problem.

This is not akin to rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic – it is about picking the colour they should be after the iceberg has been hit. The EU has ruled out all meetings; no staff or officials are travelling; trade missions to be led by the trade commissioner, Phil Hogan, have been cancelled. Heads of state are speaking only by phone, farm councils and CAP reform have been kicked into touch.

Against that background it is impossible to work out why Johnson thinks anyone is interested in negotiating on his self-imposed deadline for Brexit.

If ministers, including Michael Gove, have time on their hands it would be better spent making sure the NHS and its staff are equipped for the battle ahead than droning on about how Brexit will drive a renaissance of the UK economy. That is no longer possible. For all countries around the world the question now is what they can do to limit the generational damage economies face. That is reality. Coronavirus has turned Brexit into an irrelevant side show.

If Johnson and his cabal of advisers insist on their timetable, the result will be a bad deal. The EU will simply say, leave without a deal if you are not prepared to delay discussions until this emergency is settled. At his news conference this week, Johnson showed that he had the ability to be a serious and effective crisis manager. If he is diverted into concerns about delivering Brexit to a self imposed deadline he will look as big a buffoon as his father, who insisted social distancing was for others but not for him.

Coronavirus will be beaten with time and then we can go back to normal politics. Nothing else matters beyond overcoming this global threat. The question we have to focus on is what the peace after the war, to use Johnson's terminology, will look like. We will have an economy and businesses in deep and in some cases fatal financial trouble. Things, such as Brexit, that were important a few weeks ago are irrelevant. A month or so ago the livestock industry was being pilloried for its claimed negative impact on the environment. This was deemed an emergency for the world, as scientists were ignored in favour of the views of a 16-year-old. Today we have a threat that makes that look like the proverbial Sunday school picnic.

I am part of a generation of journalists that has lived through past threats to food. Salmonella in eggs, BSE, foot-and-mouth disease – the list is long and in every case the farming industry responded. BSE changed how we view food. It ushered in things like traceability, provenance, short supply chains and how food was produced. Inevitably with time that slipped away. The government became keen to use cheap food imports as a lever for trade deals, feeding an illusion that cheap food was all consumers should be interested in. We were even being told a few days ago by a government expert that farmers were an unnecessary luxury.

Today people are fighting over food on supermarket shelves. The flights that bring in food from around the globe are disappearing. Farmers are, rightfully, regaining respect because they can do more than most, apart from the medical profession, to avert the consequences of this crisis.

Like BSE this will be a game changer when the coronavirus crisis is over. There will be little respect for any politician that says the environment is the only reason to support farmers and that food production is no longer a justification for public funds going into agriculture. Any adviser who then says farmers are irrelevant would deserve to be carted off to a home for the mentally infirm.

Stand up farmers. Be proud and unapologetic again for what you do for society – and make sure that when this is over what you have delivered is not forgotten.