SINCE THE EU membership referendum in June 2016, it has always been possible to hazard a guess at the direction of the Brexit negotiations.

Now all bets are off, as the political process descended this week into what can only be described as utter chaos. There is a sense that there is now no-one in the driving seat, with many of the back seat passengers hoping for a crash – even if they will suffer the same fate as everyone else. The interests of businesses, from small farms in the highlands to the UK multi-nationals, have been forgotten.

The no-deal Brexit, which seemed to be off the parliamentary agenda last week – and which it is universally accepted, would be disastrous for farming – is back. So uncertain is the future that it is impossible to write one day what is likely the next. We are now in a situation where if you think of the most outlandish outcome you are as likely to be right as wrong.

The Prime Minister, assuming she still is by the time you read this, is like a gambler piling all their dwindling chips on a win or lose bet. The EU thinks it is being principled, but it knows it created this problem by failing to give David Cameron meaningful concessions before the referendum. All in all a complete – mess, to be polite – that neither leave or remain voters ever envisaged back in 2016.

For now, car crash politics continue, making it safer to look at something more concrete than Brexit. It seems ironic that market forecasts from now til 2030 could be more accurate than a long week in politics, but that is where the Brexit negotiations have taken us. Like the old communist Russia, the EU has always been enthusiastic about long term economic forecasting.

To be fair to the European Commission, over the years these have proved reasonably accurate. They are based on global and EU markets, although presumably after Brexit, the UK will have to be taken out of the EU calculation. The latest forecasts are a classic curate’s egg, in that they are good in parts for some sectors, but discouraging for two enterprises important in Scotland.

Getting the bad out of the way first, the report adopts a decidedly gloomy view of prospects for beef. It says production will have reached a peak this year and will then begin a steady decline right through to 2030. This is based on falling cow numbers, driven by production moving to smaller farmers mainly as a result of declining profitability. The report warns of the impact of environmental concerns and the growth of vegetarianism as potential negatives for beef production. This is far from encouraging, and farmers may hope Brussels is being unduly pessimistic – or that we will find a post-Brexit solution that counters some of these negatives.

On sheep, the report effectively forecasts more of the same, but stresses that in many areas production will remain linked to environment-driven support measures. That is another lesson the industry needs to hope the UK will take on board after Brexit. That will demand more imagination than is currently on display at Westminster.

Poultry is the one meat where the forecast is positive all the way, both in terms of production and demand. As poultry and pork vie to be the number one meat, growth in demand for poultry will offset EU demand for pork. The report says that will be compensated for, by a booming export market, but there, competition from low cost production areas is a harsh fact of life.

If the report is accurate, prospects for dairy are encouraging. It suggests the growth in European milk production has tailed off and will now be a modest 0.8% a year in the EU. It says consumer demand for cheese will continue to grow and that the EU is on course to supply over a third of the global demand for dairy products. By any standards that is a positive forecast.

On grain, the forecast is for an increase in production, led by demand, with the focus on wheat. Again this offers stable prospects. The overall message of the report is that consumer demand will change, with issues such as the environment and animal welfare becoming more important. This reflects what has been dubbed the ‘snowflake’ generation moving towards middle age. The report warns that this will increase compliance costs for farmers, potentially hitting profitability.