THE OLD adage claims that when you are up to your neck in alligators, it is easy to forget the original aim was to drain the swamp.

As he left office this week, Donald Trump had failed in his commitment to 'drain the swamp' of Washington political insiders. Closer to home it is easy to forget the promise from Brexit supporters that it was about extra funding for the NHS and getting rid of red tape.

When it came to wooing farmers, the CAP, bureaucracy and greening were the main targets. But as Scottish fish lies rotting because of export paperwork problems things look different. The trade deal between the EU and UK has created more red tape than anything Brussels did in 50 years of UK membership. Importers and exporters have found common cause in frustration. Fish, the totemic issue in the trade talks for Boris Johnson, has gone from a victory to an own goal in less than a month. A lot of food can no longer be easily sent to Northern Ireland; Scottish seed potato exports have been halted, with no apparent plan to restore trade; livestock cannot be sent to Ulster and the UFU there has said it is unlikely Northern Ireland livestock will feature at sales or shows in Great Britain.

This should come as no surprise. The single market has always been about dismantling barriers to trade. In reverse single markets or customs unions are about protecting those in the club against outsiders. In less than a month it has become clear that despite the Christmas Eve trade deal, the UK is just another third country. The EU is now our biggest competitor and while it is still a huge export market, doing business there is now a lot more complex.

This goes to a core difference in approach between Brussels and London. The UK is committed to global free trade, meaning there are minimal restrictions on imports, including from the EU. By contrast the EU sees itself as a fortress against imports that might not match its high standards. This is also a form of old-fashioned protectionism and it is why UK exporters are drowning in a new sea of red tape. The arch-Brexiteer, Jacob Rees Mogg, might find the situation in the Scottish fishing industry amusing, but those whose communities and livelihoods are threatened will not share his amusement. Nor will the taxpayers seeing £23 million being spent to help an industry than expected to gain from Brexit. Those hopes foundered on a policy of sovereignty being deemed more important than market access.

This has all been a cold shower of harsh reality about where Brexit leaves the UK and how it will find a new role outside the EU. This certainly applies to agriculture. The EU is now our biggest competitor for global food markets. It is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to flying the blue flag for global and domestic food sales. It is already the world's biggest agricultural trading bloc and the biggest global dairy trader. It recently confirmed a budget for this year of €180 million to promote food sales. This came with a streamlined online approval process for businesses and organisations seeking a share of these funds. This is a pot that has got steadily bigger since the EU became involved in food promotion in 2008 and outside consultants recently said this was a programme delivering value added benefits for the rural economy.

The European food campaign for this year is based on the slogan, 'Enjoy, it's from Europe'. This makes much of the culinary heritage of the 27 member states of the EU, literally from farm to fork. Mix that with the massive level of funding available and the ability to offer trade deals around access to a market of 500 million people and the EU is in a uniquely strong competitive position.

Despite coronavirus, it grew agricultural trade in 2019 and 2020, while widening the gap between exports and imports. This is a challenge the UK government needs to match head on, if it wants the globally competitive farming and food industry Johnson and others promised when canvassing farmers for a leave vote in 2016. If it fails to match the EU funding, it will be yet another sign that it sees the future in green policies rather than food production and in food imports rather than exports.