WHEN I began covering events in Brussels, Ray MacSharry had just arrived as the first Irish farm commissioner.

John Gummer was the UK minister who battled over CAP reform, with Conservative policy then built around opposition to any cap on individual CAP payments.

In the press room, Boris Johnson was the Daily Telegraph's man in Brussels; two other journalists from that group went on to be spokesmen for farm commissioners.

The point of this look back is that, while the stakes are high for Brexit, the game of bluff and counter-bluff is familiar. It happened over the Maastricht and Lisbon treaties, and at a smaller scale in successive CAP reforms. Deadlines are never what they seem to be.

A meeting of heads of state does not need weeks of notice. There would be diary problems, but they can and have been called at short notice. Timetables are always flexible. When the original CAP was being agreed, clocks were stopped to ensure the deadline was met. Brexit events need to be seen in the perspective of EU negotiations.

No matter what Brexit enthusiasts say, the UK cannot afford the 'no deal' outcome. That would be so bad for the economy that it would force a general election after a parliamentary showdown. Equally Brussels needs a deal, and of no country is that more true than Ireland.

Much is made of the backstop to avoid a hard Irish border, but in reality the issue for Dublin is that its economy would be decimated by any restrictions on its exports into the UK. This is particularly so for food. The UK is Ireland's biggest market, and farming and food are central to the Irish economy. Because of the backstop, Ireland effectively holds the key to the EU agreeing a deal. If Dublin says 'yes', things will fall into place.

The big issue for farmers as the Brexit debate continues is whether more of the same on trade, via a customs union, also means more of the same so far as policies are concerned. It is hard to believe this will not be the case. That is frustrating when the UK is finally set to get the opportunity to break away from the restrictive EU approach to productivity and technology in agriculture.

Back in 2016, those seeking support for Brexit suggested the UK would align itself with the rest of the world and not the EU, but that now looks less likely. One of the reasons is that Michael Gove, as the Defra minister, often displays more environmental enthusiasm than some of the greenest European politicians.

Assuming the other countries in the EU 27 agree to a continuing customs union for the UK, it will be a unique and bespoke deal. Many in the EU-27 will want to ensure the UK is not receiving special treatment, or being put in a position to enjoy access to the single market without having to meet the rules. This is all the more important now because of the number of countries in the EU 27 with political parties or even governments unhappy with the rules set by Brussels.

The argument is that if the UK receives special treatment, others will want the same. That suggests that we will have to stick with EU environmental, labour market and other rules so long as we are in the 'transitional' customs union.

This has to change how we view some of the things going on in the EU, on the basis that we are not going to escape from them as quickly as we thought likely. That makes it alarming that there is a new anti-agrochemicals head of steam building up, with France and Germany coming together to press for an end date for glyphosate, after its license expired in 2022. Germany is also keen to link all pesticide and herbicide use to farmers putting at least 10% of their land into biodiversity schemes.

These are some of the issues that will be around, and UK farmers will want assurances that Brexit will mean an independent agricultural policy, and not an automatic acceptance of ever tighter EU controls on productivity. If that happens we will not be able to compete with the rest of the world, meaning we could never leave the comfort blanket of the single market.

All in all, an outcome akin to the Eagles' Hotel California, where you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!