THE WORSENING coronavirus crisis has pushed the Brexit talks out of the headlines – but they are still grinding along and going nowhere fast.

Going nowhere fast could, it seems, also sum up trade if the UK leaves without a deal. Documents have emerged pointing to massive post-no deal queues at docks for both imports and exports, thanks to a lack of preparedness and construction of facilities.

With the UK economic recession and unemployment prospects getting worse, the government in London is continuing to put its head in the sand over warnings from industry and economists that a no deal departure from the EU could be a three times greater economic hit than coronavirus. That should be a sobering prospect, but it is a reality the government is continuing to ignore.

Industry is being told to prepare for a no deal Brexit, as part of the posturing by ministers to play tough with Brussels. In agriculture, however, there is little the industry can do to prepare for such an outcome.

The EU-27 remains its biggest market and there are no simple alternatives. The UK is also massively dependent on food imports from the EU, but no deal will not create an overnight new market for UK food producers. Production cannot be stepped up quickly or economically; farmers will be selling into a UK market depressed by rising unemployment. The government's response will be to keep food prices low by allowing in imports from around the world.

That is where economic forecasts of a Brexit gain for UK farmers from trading on the basis of World Trade Organisation tariffs go wrong. When theory hits reality the latter almost always wins. In this case the overwhelming desire of the government is not to show that Brexit works for farmers, but to maintain a cheap food policy as recession deepens and unemployment rises. Farmers, particularly in England, helped deliver Brexit but there will be no reward for doing so when the main policy goal is to keep food prices low.

This loss of farming influence is not limited to the UK. For years agriculture has been central to EU policy. This was partly because of a commitment to protect rural areas, but mainly because from the creation of the then EEC, the CAP was always the biggest 'common' policy. This saw it take the biggest share of the budget. That has been changing gradually, but with the present Commission in Brussels that process of change has accelerated. The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, was criticised recently for failing to mention agriculture in her state of the union address to the European parliament. Instead her focus was entirely on green issues and ambitious plans to accelerate the EU commitments on carbon reduction.

The so-called Green Deal is now at the centre of all policy decisions. Agriculture is in that mix with the new Farm to Fork plans based around sustainability and reduced agrochemical use. Food production and farmers' livelihoods are increasingly playing second fiddle to these ambitious, if unrealistic, plans. Any dissent, including calls from farm ministers for a rethink of some areas, are hastily slapped down. This will see the CAP change in ways that were never achieved through years of traditional CAP reform. The policy we are leaving will be very different to the policy farmers have been living with for decades. Farmers here and in the EU-27 may well look back with a lot of regret to what has gone – and that has nothing to do with Brexit.

Green is also now the favourite colour at Westminster. When it eventually emerges, a new UK agricultural policy will be based around green objectives. This is not because the government has a firm belief in green policies, but because it knows they sell well with voters. That may sound harsh, but the government spectacularly failed the first test of whether its green intentions are more than spin. If it genuinely believed in these policies it would have agreed to legislation to protect British foods standards, instead of creating a toothless Agriculture and Trade Commission and expecting farmers to be grateful.

If cheap food imports are the price of popularity the government will be happy to pay it, while wrapping the farming industry here in green tape to impress voters. Cynical that may be, but only by its actions can any government persuade people they are driven by good intentions.