HAROLD WILSON claimed a week was a long time in politics, and for Theresa May the past week must have felt like an eternity.

It produced many twists and turns over Brexit, and saw the departure of two key figures from government. There were surprises, in terms of who replaced Messrs Davis and Johnson, but an even bigger shock was that two key players stayed where they were at the start of the week of political earthquakes.

Those are the international trade minister, Liam Fox, and agriculture’s Michael Gove. Many people thought that when resignations began, Gove would secure a key post, such as the Foreign Office – but for now he is still at Defra. This gives agriculture some of the continuity it craves. It also leaves him well placed for a leadership challenge, since he has demonstrated loyalty and a willingness to see whether Brussels will accept the UK’s compromise Brexit plan.

By the time you read what was written on Wednesday, things could change again, given the speed now of political events. However, for now, the blood letting in the Conservative party seems to have eased. A majority of MPs seem to have accepted that when you are wounded, sticking plasters are better that razor blades. Overthrowing Mrs May could trigger an election and a change of government, which even the most eurosceptic Tory could not want.

There are now two Brexit issues on the agenda for agriculture – an acceptance of the May plan, probably with modifications, or rejection of this by the European Commission and the EU-27 member states. Views on the hard Brexit outcome that would deliver may differ between Brussels and key EU-27 member states, given the economic imperative for many of maintaining good trade relations with the UK.

Mrs May’s softer Brexit plan makes clear that the UK is leaving the CAP. That is no surprise, but it specifically cites agriculture and food as areas where common standards with the EU will be maintained. At one level this could be a sensible idea, which would allow trade, such as the export of lamb to the EU, to continue as is the case now. At the same time the UK would respect EU rules on imports. It would not import from outside the EU to get around tariffs by re-exporting products like New Zealand lamb into Europe. However it is how common standards are decided that could create difficulties.

The worst possible outcome would be if the EU insisted UK farmers had to fully meet the rules of the CAP, including cross compliance and greening regulations, as the price of trade. It is easy to imagine a situation where angry French farmers seeking to block imports would use that argument. This could create a bizarre situation where farmers had to respect EU rules they thought they had escaped, while at the same time having to meet new UK rules that will transfer funding to the delivery of public goods.

The result could have more, rather than the less, red tape hoped for when many farmers voted in the referendum to leave the EU. This ,however, would be a case of the EU shooting itself in the foot. It is a net food exporter to the UK, and if it doggedly insists on us meeting CAP standards, the UK could then make the delivery of public goods its basis for common regulation. This is one of many areas where common sense could prevail, but for now there is not much evidence of that being applied in the Brexit negotiations.

The May compromise also paves the way for a ‘no deal’ option if agreement remains elusive. This would shift trade in food with the EU-27 from a free trade basis to World Trade Organisation tariffs. This would make imports from those that dominate the UK food market – Ireland, France, Netherlands, Poland and Denmark – more expensive.

Some economists have claimed this would help farmers by raising prices for locally produced food. However this is a risky road to travel. The government will not allow food prices to rise as a result of Brexit, so it would be open to third country imports at WTO tariff rates.

This would drive down UK prices when export opportunities in the EU-27 would be restricted by tariffs, confirming that no deal and tariffs would be a zero-sum game for the both UK and the EU-27.