THE IDEA of sitting around with friends over a bottle of wine and putting the world to rights is now a lockdown unattainable fantasy. But a good subject would be 'how will we know if Brexit has worked?'.

Enthusiasts insist it will be better than remaining members of the EU, but they have never said how we will know that is actually the case.

They talk about sovereignty and controlling our own money and borders. However as the UK was never in the euro and never planned to be there, the Bank of England alone controlled UK monetary policy. Freedom of movement within the EU was something that cut both ways, human rights legislation has nothing to do with the EU and almost all UK laws were set at Westminster.

That did not prevent the government prioritising sovereignty over market access, meaning we are now paying £8 billion a year to Brussels but getting nothing in return. The easy option would have been to join countries like Norway and Switzerland in the European Economic Area, but that was rejected as an insufficiently pure Brexit back when Theresa May was prime minister.

That still leaves the question open as to how we will know Brexit has worked. There are, to be fair, some signs the UK Covid drug approval process and vaccination programme is more effective than the European model. But that is more down to having a national health service than anything that the government has done with the shackles of Europe released.

Beyond that we await evidence that Brexit is working beyond sound-bites and political spin. For now the Christmas Eve trade deal is not delivering, mainly because the red tape it triggered are making the free movement of goods as unattainable as sharing a bottle of wine with friends.

The EU is not doing a lot to ease this problem. It believes the difficulties are not of its making and wants to treat the UK no differently to any other country with which it has a trade deal. The UK expected special treatment, even extending this to EU imports to Britain, but that has not been reciprocated, particularly when it comes to agriculture and food.

That is no surprise. The UK is happy to import food and we know the government in London does not attach great importance to food standards. If it did it would not have rejected legislation imposing UK standards on imports. By contrast the EU has always seen itself as a fortress against imports and the UK will increasingly learn it is just another third country. Indeed given the animosity Brexit and the trade deal have created, the UK is arguably less popular, as a former EU member state, than third countries trying to secure trade deals with the EU.

If politicians supportive of Brexit are making a case to show it works this has to go beyond rhetoric and demonstrate clear economic benefits. That is difficult given the growing pains now being experienced, twinned with the economic collapse triggered by the Covid crisis. For now consumers, witnessing some empty supermarket shelves, are failing to see the benefits of Brexit. Farmers and the food industry need to be on their guard against this being used to release the brake on imports. These would fill shelves quickly and cheaply, but would be the final nail in the coffin of any hopes UK agriculture could gain from Brexit.

That there are problems is beyond question. So too is the reality that the government knows this is the case. However it is in denial that its shiny new dream is already tarnished. Thanks to Covid this is not a problem entirely of its own making, but alienating the countries that make up our biggest market and supply base was never a good idea.

Boris Johnson, rightly, refers to 'our European friends' but he needs to do more to show he means this. Equally the EU, sore as it may be that a key member state has left, needs to show some maturity. The short term problems surrounding Brexit will settle down over the coming weeks. When that is resolved, the long struggle in the UK and EU must move up a gear to permanently iron out the problems Brexit has brought for both and to try to find a new relationship that works.

The divorce is now complete, but while the fighting and point scoring continues there can be no winners.