WHEN THE Defra Secretary, Michael Gove, was in Scotland, it was encouraging that he suggested it could be in charge on its own agricultural destiny.

He implied that even if direct payments were cut in England, they could be maintained in Scotland. That is a welcome prospect. But in the current political climate of ministers putting the best possible spin on Brexit, farmers will need more than words to convince them.

What Gove was saying was similar to what was said by Owen Paterson two years ago, before the referendum, when he convinced many farmers Brexit would mean a simpler, regionalised farm support policy. However two years on we need to see deeds and not more words.

The level of spin at Westminster to convince people Brexit can be a success is dizzy-making, but what farmers need are decisions, policies and plans. There are still no signs of those emerging in a form to overcome doubts. Indeed with Gove, skilled politician that he is, there is a sense that he says what his audience wants to hear, rather than what they need to hear.

It is clear now that trade will be the real Brexit battleground in the coming months. There are plenty of voices warning of problems. The CBI has warned that the UK motor industry risks being eliminated by a hard Brexit; Siemens, Airbus and BMW have all questioned what future they would have in the UK if there were no customs deal with the EU.

This week the European Commission president, Jean Claude Juncker, said the EU-27 would support Ireland over the avoidance of a hard border, even if that threatened a deal with the UK. This reflects the political core of the EU. It is about political and economic solidarity, and without a customs union deal, the UK will walk away from that.

It is already a tough negotiation for Theresa May to take on 27 member states, the European Commission and European parliament. If she heeds advice coming from some of her cabinet members that task will be made all the more difficult.

Those bullish voices around the cabinet table include Messrs Gove, Johnson, Davis and Fox. Liam Fox, as the minister responsible for international trade, is talking up prospects of global trade deals, and suggesting that the EU is not really a global player. This suggests Fox was a better doctor than he is an economist or business guru.

His sights are set firmly on a headline grabbing deal with the Trump administration in the US, despite its divide and rule approach so far as the EU and UK are concerned. This is akin to school children saying you cannot be someone's friend if you are also friends with someone else. The latest comment from the US is that the UK needs to abandon any commitment to PGI products, such as Scotch whisky, lamb and beef, if it wants a trade deal with the US.

This reflects bad relations between Washington and Brussels, and comes on top of the US insisting the UK must accept US standards, including chlorinated chicken. To date no cabinet minister has stood up to this bullying. Instead they are seemingly prepared to accept a trade deal built on swapping Brussels trade diktats for less benevolent diktats from the US.

There is also a drive by some government ministers to play up global trade deals and to suggest that trade with the EU, our biggest export customer, is less important. There are also suggestions that the EU does not offer anything special in terms of global trade access. This may be the view in London, but last week the EU formally opened negotiations on free trade deals with New Zealand and Australia.

These are two targets for the UK, but the EU can offer a huge market of 500 rather than 60 million consumers. The EU also has trade deals already in place with Mexico, Singapore, Canada and Japan; it is close to signing a controversial accord with the Mercosur countries of South America.

These are the product of years, rather than months of negotiations. They put the EU far ahead of the UK. The key question for politicians in London, led by Liam Fox, is how long it will take the UK to catch up. That will not be answered by seeking to downplay what a trade-aggressive EU has achieved or how big a global competitor for the UK it will be after Brexit.