WITH SPIN over substance, the government announced this week that it would fine big companies that failed to counter global deforestation.

It has told them to clean up their supply chains, so that they do not use products such as a palm oil from areas that were once rainforests. This sounds worthy, although the plan is short on detail. However it is hard to see how this squares with giving the farming industry a toothless trade commission instead of legislation to protect food standards.

Some globally traded food is not only the product of deforestation, in the case of Brazil, but the product of poor animal welfare, doubtful hygiene and significantly lower standards for social conditions. If there is a case for fining companies over deforestation there is a stronger case for banning cheap food imports.

This latest initiative risks being dismissed as an example of 'green wash', designed to look good but unlikely to achieve much. Legislation to protect food standards would not have fallen into that trap. But the government was not prepared to risk anything that might make the already difficult task of securing global trade deals even more difficult.

With this latest plan it has side-stepped any involvement, transferring responsibility for policing the supply chain to the importing companies. That is unfair but not unexpected from a government incapable of even setting policy over face masks in schools without being prompted by Scotland. This adds to a sense that policy is being made daily, rather than on the basis of a well thought-out strategy.

Despite that cynicism, farmers may see merit in outlawing deforestation. It is certainly a challenge to the Brazilian meat industry, and the UK is not alone in its actions, The European Commission is also linking trade to deforestation practices. In theory this puts environmental organisations, such as Greenpeace, and the farming lobby on the same page. However there are dangers in assuming your enemy's enemy is automatically your friend. Greenpeace and others are putting pressure on major retailers and fast food operations to ban imports from countries guilty of poor practice in rainforests. That is encouraging, but the green lobby is not interested in alternative supply sources. What they say they want is a commitment to using less meat and more plant based alternatives.

If that is their real agenda they can never be on the same page as the farming lobby. This is not only about forests being cleared for meat production and palm oil. Soya is also a target and while the United States is now the biggest supplier to the EU, Brazil is still a major supplier. Any threat to the supply or price of soya imports would be a threat to the livestock industry across the EU.

While there are ambitious plans to reduce reliance on protein imports they are over-optimistic and years away when the environmental lobby wants action now. Like all big political gestures this makes headlines, but the full implications are poorly thought out. Coronavirus has made policy making on the hoof the norm, but that has to stop. We need considered, balanced judgements. A government seeking to spread some environmental fairy dust to distract from other problems is not a basis for policy.

Brexit is an area where there has been little real policy making and that continues. The fact that we are in the last chance saloon for a deal did not prevent the talks being delayed for holidays. We are getting mixed messages about what is happening. Brexit is uncharted territory, but it is akin to any deal hatched within the EU. We are now in the 'talk up the problems' phase. This followed the 'hopeful of a deal' phase. This is a strategy. It is about setting a scene where both sides can back down with some dignity.

When he was the Daily Telegraph man in Brussels, Boris Johnson talked about the smell of fudge as deals were struck. It was a good metaphor and with the Brexit talks due to start again on September 7, the ingredients for a big batch of fudge are being prepared.

Get ready for more grandstanding and talk of a no deal outcome from officials. They will not deliver the deal. It will come from Johnson and EU heads of state as a display statesmanship, probably around mid-October. That is where I would place my bets, – but then, statistically, the punter is always the loser.