THE LAST chance saloon for a Brexit deal is beginning to look like a drinking establishment hit by the lockdown. That a deal will emerge is almost beyond doubt, but why it is taking so long is less easy to understand. Nothing is going to change in terms of the big detail.

Delay now can only be about the UK government wanting to find the right political circumstances to confirm that four years of negotiation delivered a massive fudge. Brino – Brexit in name only – is the new term and that is looking more and more like what will emerge.

Looking back to 2016 it was all made to look so easy. Before the referendum Owen Paterson promised farmers a future with the same support but without the red tape of the CAP. Michael Gove and Boris Johnson said a trade deal with the EU-27 would be the easiest in history.

The phrase I remember best however came from the then farm commissioner, Phil Hogan. It was unfortunate he lost the key post of trade commissioner for attending a golf dinner in Ireland during lockdown, because he had a unique ability to put problems in simple terms. About Brexit he said farmers had a choice between the certainty of the CAP, with all its flaws, and a gamble on the generosity of the British Treasury. As Scotland and the other UK regions contemplate an unexpected drop in rural development funding those words have taken on a new relevance.

The reasons for this reversal on maintaining EU funding commitments are complex. They reflect the fact that rural development programmes and spending always run in arrears, because of the complex decision making processes to secure approval. Whether this is resolved or not, it raises wider issues about post-Brexit funding for rural areas. The UK has always had a poor share of EU rural development funds, having failed from the outset to secure as good a funding mechanism as other member states.

However something was better than nothing and over the years Scotland was able to make good use of this funding. Now, thanks to Westminster, its future is in doubt, not least because that depends on ongoing projects being supported until a new plan for rural areas emerges from the Scottish government.

It is hard to see the Treasury being generous, given the pressures on the UK economy. This in turn raises a fundamental issue that was not part of the debate before the referendum vote in 2016. Thanks to Ray MacSharry, the EU farm commissioner back in the early 1990s, the EU made a split between farming support and rural development. He established the principle of both policies having different objectives and that made sense. Farming is a big economic engine in rural economies but it cannot carry them alone, especially when both the public and private sectors are targeting rural areas as part of cost cutting plans. London seems to be seeking to use its new green farm support model to deliver things that in the past would have been delivered through rural development programmes

This is unlikely to achieve the wider aims of helping whole rural areas and it will be up to the devolved regions of the UK to see if they can come up with a better approach within their budgets. Significantly the EU-27 in its new CAP is sticking with much of the existing framework. Direct payments will continue and there will still be a separate funding stream for rural development. This is within the context of a greening of all EU policy, including its new Farm to Fork strategy. That will bring changes, but the architecture of the EU farm and rural support structure will stay the same.

That is not the case in the UK and farmers need to be convinced that in leaving the CAP they are moving towards something better. That case has not been made. It is equally important that rural areas are not left behind.

Rural development had many flaws over the years, but it did deliver successes and those must continue with proper funding. The gamble on the generosity of the Treasury was taken in 2016. It cannot now afford to be generous, but in the EU-27 we have left, farming and rural development support is not in the financial firing line. Nor should it be in the UK, despite the government's urban focus.