SHAKESPEARE has Hamlet claiming the time is 'out of joint' and cursing spite that he has the task of setting it right.

Writing about Brexit this week evokes sympathy for Hamlet. Making predictions about what will happen is akin to shooting at a fast moving target. As things stand, another kick for touch is the likely option, since the alternative is to allow talks between Brussels and London to collapse.

At one level the game of bluff and counter-bluff is akin to a CAP reform negotiation, where the deal is done in the final hours. But this time it is a debate where the stakes have never been higher for the EU. Theresa May now has the most unenviable job in politics, and she must be regretting signing up the backstop on the Irish border that has landed her in the mess she is in.

Farmers are seeing uncertainty piled on top of uncertainty. They now have free access to one of the best markets in the world, in the shape of the EU 27. That would continue in a customs union, but the Brexiteers in the Conservative party are against anything that would limit the scope of the UK to sign global trade deals.

They have yet to explain what these might deliver. The big prize they want is the United States, but the track record of the Trump administration on trade is far from impressive.

Most of the countries of the Commonwealth are too poor to be trade prospects. Australia and New Zealand are already in discussions with the EU on a trade deal. Canada too has a deal with the EU, and has just signed into a new trade bloc with the United States and Mexico. To believe that these countries are waiting with bated breath to conclude deals with the UK and its population of 60 million, once it is free of the EU, is more fantasy than reality.

None of the options now being debated look promising for agriculture. A customs union of some type with the EU would still be the best option. This would allow products, such as lamb, continuing access to EU-27 markets. Critics of this approach will say it also allows countries in the EU-27 to supply food into the UK, even if the plunge in the value of sterling since the Brexit referendum has made it less attractive for them. This is true, but the UK is only two-thirds self sufficient in food, and UK suppliers are not going to be able to step up production to fill that gap in either the short or medium term.

If food is coming into the UK from the EU-27, led by EU countries like Ireland, Netherlands, Germany and France, then it is coming from high EU standards, high cost producers. The industry here can live with that situation, because it is not a fundamental economic threat. It is also a trade relationship that brings export possibilities for the UK and these have been good over decades for the farming industry.

As of now the alternative is the no deal outcome many Tory Brexiteers see as a new Nirvana. We can even set aside the consequences of this trade being based on World Trade Organisation tariffs. These would have to be negotiated, and as of now the UK is not a member of the WTO, because in all trade bodies member states are represented by the EU. This would mean negotiating with the EU on tariffs within the WTO, which looks like an extension of what is happening now.

For the no deal option to work the UK would need to secure speedy trade deals. The attraction for many countries is that, unlike the EU, the UK wants trade to be on the basis of no tariffs. The government would be easily persuaded to include food. It would then let the market decide whether people want cheap imports or to pay a premium for better quality, locally produced food. That is an outcome that would limit or close access to the EU-27.

The question then is whether these new trading partners would make up the gap by buying from the UK, remembering that many already have trade deals with the EU-27. Most are global food exporters, rather than importers, so whatever way the proverbial cookie crumbles it is hard to see no deal on trade being anything other than a lose, lose for farmers.