IN THE grip of another lockdown, Christmas Eve seems a long, long time ago.

Boris Johnson must feel the same. Back then he was like a young child, thumping the table with glee over his best ever Christmas present – a Brexit deal that he described as having your cake and eating it too. A couple of weeks on, the present looks less glossy. Even his friends he thought would be really impressed have moved on to the always bigger issue of an out-of-control coronavirus crisis.

Coronavirus is eclipsing the debate on the devil that lies in the Brexit deal. Nicola Sturgeon has made clear where Scotland stands, telling the EU to 'leave a light on' for Scotland's return. It might need to be a long lasting bulb, but the May Holyrood elections will certainly be interesting.

Johnson claims to be a UK 'conservative and unionist', but his Brexit plan has left Scotland's biggest political party looking back to the EU, while Northern Ireland has been cast into a limbo land, neither fully in the EU or the UK. The problems that emerged over exports of sheep and seed potatoes to Ulster are just the tip of a huge iceberg.

The way the UK has delivered Brexit has eliminated much of the affection and respect that existed across the EU for Britain. Goodwill has largely gone and it is clear that the 27 member states of the EU are simply getting on with life. They have parked Brexit and thrown away the keys, opting instead to make the deal work the best they can, while driving hard to cement the EU's position as the world's biggest free trade bloc and biggest agricultural trader. It is now up to officials in the UK and EU to hammer out the detail and that will be no easy process, but it is the only route away from politics to a system that works. As things stand, the UK is going on paying between £7 billion and £8 billion a year to the EU and getting nothing for it.

For the government, and the machinery of government, leaving the EU is a huge test of where the bureaucracy we were promised an escape from is actually created. It has been easy for years for officials to blame Brussels for red tape, but now when it is imposed they will have nowhere to hide. Brexit is already delivering new headaches for all businesses and particularly those involved in what were once simple export transactions to EU member states. There has always been a sense that UK officials gold-plated EU regulations, because they could and because they feared the hassle of being accused by Brussels of not doing so. By contrast other member states were better thought of but more lax, paying lip service to the EU while making sure regulations were not too onerous.

This is the challenge Johnson and his government needs to grasp. They need to tell officials from the top to the lower public facing tiers of the civil service and local authorities that things have changed and people must be able to see that change. Red tape associated with exporting is inevitable now we are out of the single market, but beyond that there is less need for it and no mythical master in Brussels to satisfy. Farmers were told in 2016 that leaving the CAP would be an escape from red tape. That is welcome thinking, but as the government in London goes ever greener, believing this reflects the public mood, farmers in England will face environmental regulations that will make even the new Farm to Fork-driven CAP look simple. EU farmers will still be rewarded, via the CAP, largely for producing food, but that will not be the case in England.

Scotland and Northern Ireland have suggested they will pursue different policies, but it will be a real test of devolution to establish how independent they can be of significantly less farmer-friendly policies in London. It seems ironic that in terms of the focus of their farming businesses around efficiency and food production, farmers in Scotland could soon have more in common with their counterparts in most of the EU member states than their fellow UK farmers in England. Mere days into the new year, Brexit is already proving the law of unintended consequences and that will become more apparent in the weeks and months ahead.