THE UK’s Brexit farce has reached epic proportions this week, and not for the first time.

If it were a fictional situation, it would be funny in a cringeworthy sort of way. Sadly, given the damage being done to UK households and businesses, and the prospect of much worse to come on this front, it is no laughing matter.

A survey published on Monday by accountancy network Moore Stephens showed the single biggest concern among owner-managed businesses for 2018 was how Brexit negotiations would affect them. This was a significantly bigger fear among such firms overall than other worries such as skills shortages, cyber attacks, and increased regulation.

While this was not a surprising finding, events in the days that have followed show they are right to be concerned.

What humour there is to be had amid the continuing Brexit shambles is black.

The most noteworthy contribution this week on this front, intentional or unintentional, was from Sir Martin Donnelly, who left his role as permanent secretary at the Department for International Trade last year.

He struck a very different tone from the continuing rambunctious patriotic outpourings from Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox.

Sir Martin declared: “You’re giving up a three-course meal, which is the depth and intensity of our trade relationships across the European Union and partners now, for the promise of a packet of crisps in the future if we manage to do trade deals outside the European Union which

aren’t going to compensate for what we are giving up.”

The best that Downing Street could come up with in response was that Prime Minister Theresa May had given up crisps for Lent. This quip was not really much of a response to the serious point raised by Sir Martin. However, it was admittedly more impressive than what Mr Fox could come up with.

Mr Fox, continuing the hysterical language of the Brexiters, declared that staying in a customs union with the EU would be a “betrayal” of Brexit voters.

You hear a lot of wild and angry talk from the Brexit camp about betrayal and treachery, when what they are attacking is the contribution of people trying to mitigate the damage of leaving the EU. It is truly astonishing to hear suggestions that are for the obvious good of the UK held up as some kind of betrayal or treachery. What absolute nonsense.

And that brings us nicely to another finding of Moore Stephens’ survey. The survey found that around 94 per cent of small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK believe the Westminster Government is ignoring their worries about Brexit, and the level of concern is “incredibly high”.

Surely, the latest proclamations from Mr Fox only serve to underline the degree to which the Brexiters in the Conservative Government are ignoring the sensible voices, emanating from the business community and the public as well as political circles, as they pursue their desire to leave the EU. The fervour with which arch-Brexiters pursue their aim seems to be matched in intensity only by their fears that their ambition might somehow be thwarted by opposing voices.

These opposing voices are those of reason.

Last week, the Office for National Statistics revised UK growth in the fourth quarter of last year down to just 0.4 per cent, from 0.5 per cent.

UK economic growth over 2017 as a whole was revised down to 1.7 per cent, from 1.8 per cent. The UK economy grew last year at the weakest pace since 2012. The 19-nation eurozone grew by 2.5 per cent last year, and this was its best expansion in a decade.

What was particularly interesting in the latest ONS gross domestic product data, although it was in no way surprising, was that UK business investment was flat in the fourth quarter of last year.

This is yet another sign that the business community is not buying the picture painted by Mr Fox and the Brexiters about how wonderful life is going to be when the supposedly great opportunities presented by Brexit eventually manifest themselves.

The big problem is there is still no sign of any such opportunities. Returning to the packet of crisps analogy, it is possible those who have been promised these might even find the late-night garage is all out of its stock of savoury snacks when the Brexiters get them there.

The crucial issue on the investment front is that businesses remain nervous. They are fearful because Brexit creates huge uncertainties, and these seem to be getting greater rather than smaller as time goes on.

This week’s back and forth between the UK Government and EU showed the timing of the crystallisation of the true horrors of Brexit also remains a matter of uncertainty. Meantime, we have plenty of economic damage from the Brexit vote with which to contend in any case.

Late last year, it had seemed that we were getting close to a transition deal, one that might put off the awful effects of Brexit for a couple of years.

However, as is its right, the EU has set some conditions on such a deal. And the Conservative Government does not like them, as has been made plain by Mrs May.

The obvious fact of the matter is that, in this negotiation, the UK has little bargaining power.

It can attempt to take issue with what the EU is doing. However, as EU chief negotiator on Brexit Michel Barnier rightly points out, it is not in any way a case of the EU trying to provoke the UK. It was the UK which made a unilateral decision to leave the bloc. Decisions such as that made by the UK electorate have consequences.

It was interesting to hear former prime minister Sir John Major declare on Wednesday “we need answers, not aspirations” as he said MPs should be given a free vote on whether to accept or reject the final Brexit deal. Sir John said the “option” of a further referendum must remain open for a “sovereign” Parliament to insist upon. Such moves would be utterly democratic. They would not represent a betrayal.

And they might give the business community some hope that common sense could yet prevail in this fiasco.