THE UK'S chief negotiator, David Frost, admitted this week that things have been 'more bumpy' than expected over the trade deal with the EU.

That is certainly a league-topping understatement, but the outcome should have come as no surprise to an experienced diplomat and negotiator. He knows exactly what happened in the negotiations, and he must understand better than most that the EU will protect its single market at all costs.

As the politician responsible for relations with the EU, Michael Gove likened the bumpy ride to a bit of turbulence after a plane takes off. He assured people we would still be sitting back sipping a gin and tonic and enjoying a smooth flight. Perhaps he would like to explain how smooth the flight is to fishermen, who pinned their hopes on Brexit only to find that better access to fish was not worth much if you cannot sell them. It might even prepare Gove for offering a similar explanation to farmers later in the year, when they face the same bureaucratic mountain trying to export lamb into the EU-27.

Frost would have done better to acknowledge some realities. He was sent to Brussels to negotiate with a mandate from his political master, Boris Johnson, to prioritise sovereignty over market access. Against that background, the deal the UK got is probably as good as it gets. The error goes back long before Frost became involved. In Theresa May's time as prime minister, she rejected suggestions that the UK should remain in the European Economic Area and have access to the single market on the same terms as other countries such as Norway.

That thinking was dismissed in favour of sovereignty, which was never defined, and that is why we are where we are today. For the EU, the single market and political solidarity are its most prized assets. It was always going to protect these at all costs. Even with a trade deal, the UK is no different to all the other countries with which the EU has similar deals. The difference for Britain however, is that after 47 years as a member state, its economic links are so strong that the deal is not enough to allow business to continue as normal. That is now clear and people like Gove and Frost should be sufficiently honest to admit it.

The undoubted success of the UK over the Covid vaccine, compared to the EU, cannot hide the political reality that the trade deal is not fit for purpose, for either the UK or the EU. A committee structure exists to try to iron out the problems and some successes are being achieved. But these are about tinkering with single problems, rather than addressing the deeper, core failures of the agreement. Everyone knows what these are and that they stem from the bureaucracy around customs declarations and in particular veterinary certification.

On top of that, the arguments surrounding the 'partly in the EU, partly in the UK' trade position of Northern Ireland are an even greater challenge. Identifying the problems and fixing them are not however the same thing.

That this needs to happen is beyond doubt. However for this to be achieved both the EU and UK need to get back to the fundamentals of the deal. The EU needs to acknowledge that things are not working smoothly and that businesses across the EU-27 are being hurt because they cannot trade normally with the UK. It needs to acknowledge that the UK is a strategic and commercial ally and fully accept that Brexit has happened and is permanent. That may be possible, but not until the vaccine row dies down and petty point-scoring gives way to real politics.

For the UK, the need is to accept the fundamental error in deeming sovereignty more important than market access. The warm glow of whatever sovereignty is meant to be cannot replace lost jobs, tied up fishing boats, empty export lorries and gaps on supermarket shelves.

No matter how much ministers may wrap themselves in the union flag to trumpet claims about new global trade deals, they need to accept the economic reality that the EU-27 is, always has been and will for the foreseeable future be our biggest market. It was also our easiest market and needs to be again if Brexit is to be the success the government in London continues to promise it can be.