IT WAS not the fault of 2020...but as the new year was rung in we were all glad to see the back of the old year. Our 2021 hopes are pinned on the Covid vaccine and relief that, for better or worse, Brexit is finally settled.

The phrase over Brexit that no deal was better than a bad deal was widely used. Now we will learn whether a fudge is better than no deal. What has been agreed is complex and it will take a long time to uncover the devil in the detail. It is certainly there and no amount of bluster from Boris Johnson can hide that reality.

The shorthand phrase used to describe the deal is that the government chose its definition of sovereignty over market access. It made a stand over fish, which represents at best 0.2% of the UK economy, but failed to please the fishing industry; it has created a system that will wrap every UK business in new coils of red tape and a deal that excludes services, which are biggest sector of the UK's economy.

We are now in the middle of a spin war. We are daily being told of the 'massive' trade deals the UK is concluding, the latest being with Turkey. The bottom line however is that none give businesses more than they already had through EU trade deals with the same countries. Indeed in some cases they offer less. This week that was underlined when the EU took a big step towards a deal with China, the world's biggest market. That has been in discussion since 2014, but has been pushed now because of strains between China and the US. Matching that, rather than rolling over existing EU deals, will test whether the UK can turn rhetoric about prospects into commercial reality.

It would be great news if the Brexit deal really can be a springboard to build a new UK economy, capable of taking on the EU-27 as a competitor. The UK has never lacked skills and imagination in business, but it is facing the twin challenges of Covid and more costly and bureaucratic access to its biggest export market. The government has always claimed it wanted an amicable divorce from the EU-27, but as with relationship breakdowns in real life, this has not proved possible. By playing to the gallery back home and claiming victory over the EU, the government has alienated its greatest global ally. Cooler heads may prevail in London over the coming months, but the EU is circling its wagons to make Fortress Europe even stronger against third countries, of which the UK is now definitely one.

We know the government has agreed arrangements to allow mutual recognition of agricultural products, but that, for example, does not apply to Scottish seed potatoes or indeed to sheep destined for breeders in Northern Ireland. That is a perfect example of the devil in the detail. Recognition is a snapshot at a particular time, but things will change because the deal does not include future recognition of standards. That may prove crucial as the CAP and UK farm policies diverge.

There is a big difference between being in the EU single market, pioneered by Margaret Thatcher, of right and of being there by vague political agreement. This is got around for others, such as Norway and Switzerland, because they are not EU members but are part of the European Economic Area. They effectively pay for access to the EU single market. The UK ruled out that option long ago, as an early example of its policy of prioritising sovereignty over market access.

Over the coming months, politicians will step back and officials in London and Brussels will face the daunting task of turning the Brexit deal into practical policies. Thousands of questions will arise in agriculture about standards, about equivalence in rules, about licensing arrangements for the products used on farms, about compliance with EU rules...that list will be endless.

The real crunch will come when French farmers decide they do not want UK lamb coming into France and block lorries. The UK will have no legal remedy, having opted for market access light. Incidents like that will over time highlight the reality that the divorce has moved from decree nisi to decree absolute. Our former partner will increasingly use the age old phrase – you made your bed, now lie in it.