IT WAS no surprise to learn this week that the UK is officially in recession, following two quarters of negative growth.

The scale of the downturn in the second quarter was horrendous – the worst since GDP (gross domestic product) was introduced in the 1930s to measure economic performance. This leaves the UK in a worse situation than most other developed economies. Things will get worse as the we are hit by the job losses the autumn will bring as employment protection schemes end.

Even in the ever-bullish fantasy land of Downing Street this has to trigger alarm bells. The government strategy of keeping pubs open at all costs in England and bunging people a tenner to go out for lunch is a sticking plaster on a haemorrhage. Retail stores and the High Street are not going to save the day. The problems they face can only get worse as people lose their jobs while even those who keep them will feel uncertain about their economic future. Add the uncertainties of Brexit and the lack of decisions around it into that mix and the government is facing a perfect economic storm.

If logic rather than bravado is the order of the day at Westminster, this has to trigger some radical economic thinking. We need a focus back onto manufacturing industries that add value to basic materials. It is no new claim, but farming and food with guaranteed home and export markets should be seen as key building blocks. There is a view in government that agriculture is a sunset industry, but we are fast moving to where that title could be applied to retailing, financial services and hospitality.

Over the years we have exported much of our manufacturing industry. That is not going to be reversed, but we cannot allow politicians to make the same mistake with farming. Agriculture cannot be seen in terms of problems about the need for support and arguments about livestock production and climate change. It is very much part of the solution for the environment and the wider economy.

That must be recognised and the farming lobby must promote its case aggressively. Importing cheap food will not drive the economic gains needed to help rebalance the UK economy away from its dependence on services at the expense of manufacturing. This is a long term project but it can no longer be ducked. The coronavirus crisis did not create the problem but it has made it worse and highlighted the fault lines running through the UK economy.

The farming lobby is represented on the new Agriculture and Trade Commission, which in theory has the attention of government although it has no powers. They must use their role to highlight the case for a new approach to agriculture and for its repositioning in terms of policy importance. This will not be popular. The government and the trade minster, Liz Truss, see the Commission as a fig leaf to hide a lack of real action to protect UK food standards from cheap imports. That fig leaf must be torn away by the farming representatives. If that means becoming an 'awkward squad' within the Commission or even walking away and embarrassing the minister that would be no bad thing.

When it comes to trade after Brexit, the government is determined to spin a positive message. That will become even more pressing as people realise what a truly dire state the UK economy is in, as job losses mount over the coming months. The government needs to be telling its Brexit negotiators to forget the politics and get a deal at all costs. The 'go it alone' no deal option is now even less affordable.

Relentlessly positive spin without real substance from Truss was apparent when she boasted about a trade deal with Japan being ready to sign as soon as the UK is fully out of the EU. This included a claim about new opportunities for pork exports in particular. What she overlooked was the fact that the EU already has a free trade deal with Japan, which is one of the world's biggest free trade deals. The UK was part of that as an EU member state, so the big success being boasted of was keeping much of what we already have, but as a trading minnow outside the big EU/Japan free trade area.

That is reality. Spin is about making politicians look good, but that does not cure a double dip recession.