THIS IS not the week to risk talking about a Brexit deal. All the signs are that it will be done, but we are now well used to political shocks that defy logic.

However the stage is being set on both sides for a deal. The EU is saying little, beyond positive noises. In London, Boris Johnson has cleared out his fanatically pro-Brexit advisers. Reports that no deal would be disastrous for the economy are no longer being challenged. An ultra-green UK agenda is being talked up. The signs remain that there will be minor concessions on fish, with a fudge of other issues.

This is not much to show for the political huffing and puffing there has been, but that is the reality of politics. It is now about securing least worst options. In both the EU and UK looming economic mayhem and getting on top of coronavirus dwarf all other issues.

Deal or no deal politicians are doing little to give us confidence that they will get things right. This week we had Mr Johnson damning Scottish devolution as a disaster, Labour again brushing anti-Semitism under the carpet of expediency and reports of cronies of Conservative ministers and special advisers securing lucrative contracts without the inconvenience of tendering. Why Covid demands millions to be spent on PR is baffling, as is the incompetence of ministers to buy PPE that actually works. This does not augur well for how they will manage vaccinations as our way out of the current nightmare.

Closer to farming we had the Defra minister, George Eustice, accepting that a no deal Brexit or even a poorly negotiated trade deal, would devastate sheep production. As a conclusion this did not demand rocket science, since losing the EU market for lamb would leave the industry with nowhere to sell lambs coming off farms in a few months time. Eustice suggested dairy farming should survive any changes and that farmers could switch into cattle. We are a long, long way from when the UK had agriculture ministers that knew their industry, but it defies logic that anyone could see sheep and cattle as enterprises that can be swapped. This lack of understanding at the top is certainly cause for the industry to hope a Brexit deal is done in a way that allows trade to continue.

If and when a Brexit deal is done there will be considerable relief. The stock market has improved in expectation of a successful vaccine and a Brexit deal coming together to drive confidence. However there will be a big difference between a deal being secured and finding ways to maintain a 'business as usual' approach. There is a huge difference between being in a market of right, as is the case now with the UK and the single market, and being there as the result of a treaty between 27 member states of the EU and the UK.

Being a member of the single market comes with a raft of legal protections, all backed by the European Commission and European court. This market and the restrictions on state aid the UK has been battling against in the negotiations were not the product of left-of-centre EU member states. They were deemed one of the biggest achievements of Margaret Thatcher as prime minister – a fact modern day Conservatives have forgotten.

Assuming a Brexit deal is done and we are sending lamb to France, rather than grazing the hills with cattle, it is easy to see a battle a day ahead as EU 27 farmers resist imports they believe threaten their market. They and their governments will use new tactics to disrupt trade. They will question whether in every detail UK standards match those of the EU. They may well go beyond that to block consignments, in a return of familiar lorry burning tactics the laws of the single markets effectively stamped out.

This is made all the more likely by the post-coronavirus renationalisation of food markets. Most countries in the EU now have campaigns of various types to promote locally produced food. In France this has the weight of government support for a campaign with supermarkets to 'keep French farmers on their farms'. This is the reality we face. Deal or no deal, the outcome of Brexit is that the UK will be a third country outside the single market, with no more protection than any other. Business as usual will be a fantasy, rather than a reality.