ONE thing seems pretty clear from the tiresome and demoralising Conservative leadership contest: the more the two candidates talk, the worse it gets.

Sterling dropped to its worst level against the dollar for more than two years on Tuesday as financial markets reacted with fright to the latest chest-puffing from Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt in a leadership debate the previous evening.

The pair fuelled fears of a no-deal Brexit with tough talk about the Irish “backstop” negotiated between outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May and the European Union, a “temporary” customs union aimed at avoiding a hard border. Mr Johnson proclaimed the backstop would have to be scrapped. Mr Hunt said the backstop was “dead”.

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We seem to be living in an age in which politicians favour categoric comments in cases where the context would indicate there is very little if any realistic chance of what they say they will make happen actually occurring. Given the protracted and tortuous nature of the UK’s negotiations on Brexit with our long-suffering neighbours in the European Union, some people might have expected a bit more from Mr Johnson or Mr Hunt. Perhaps an explanation of how the EU is suddenly going to capitulate to their demands, made from an extremely weak negotiating position.

That said, given the relentlessly hidebound attitudes of Tory Brexiters, the latest rambunctious, patriotic and utterly insubstantial diatribes from the pair vying to lead the divided Conservatives were as drearily predictable as they were demoralising. This is all about playing to the gallery. And broadcast debates, whether it be over the Tory leadership or ahead of a general election, just encourage this type of behaviour. The last thing such behaviour needs, of course, is any encouragement.

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Millions of UK households are justifiably exasperated with the Brexit fiasco. The annoyance will no doubt be greater in strong Remain-supporting areas such as Scotland and London, as Messrs Johnson and Hunt thump their tubs.

And it is difficult to imagine that EU leaders will not be mightily frustrated. They must be wondering how many times they have to tell whichever Tories are in front of them at any given moment that it is not possible for a future Conservative leader, however confidently this person might proclaim it is the case, to come up with a whole new deal.

Of course, we must remember the deal negotiated by Mrs May already represents a very hard Brexit, given it would remove the UK from the single market and end crucial free movement of people between the UK and other European countries. It would thus damage the UK greatly.

The group of business and education bodies behind the “#FullStrength” campaign on Wednesday urged the Tories to re-think their planned dramatic changes to immigration policy to avoid skills shortages.

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These bodies want a raft of relaxations to the draconian changes to immigration policy which the Tories want to implement following the end of the Brexit transition period (if indeed we have such a period given the current sabre-rattling by the leadership candidates). And they have made their case in letters to Mr Johnson and Mr Hunt.

This group includes Universities UK, the Federation of Master Builders, the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, Tech UK, the British Retail Consortium, the Coalition for a Digital Economy, London First, the North West Business Leadership Team, the Association of Labour Providers, Innovate Finance and UK Hospitality. Relaxations to the Tory plans sought by the group include a lowering of the salary threshold for migrant workers to about £20,000 from £30,000, and a raft of measures to help enable temporary work, post-study work, and youth mobility.

It is good to see damage-limitation lobbying in the context of the dire Tory immigration plan.

READ MORE: Lake of Menteith hotel owner Ian Fleming flags sector worry over Brexit visitor hit

Of course, the optimal outcome for the UK’s economy and its citizens’ living standards would be the UK remaining in the EU, with all the single-market benefits, and the abandonment for good of Brexit.

The Scottish Retail Consortium this week cited the impact of “intense political and economic volatility” as it revealed a 2.3 per cent year-on-year tumble in sales value in June.

Ian Fleming, owner of the Lake of Menteith Hotel in Perthshire, has meanwhile flagged fears in the sector over a fall in visitors from mainland Europe during the crucial summer period – blaming Brexit. He declared this negative impact was more than offsetting a rise in UK “staycations” fuelled partly by sterling weakness.

The pound fell below $1.24 for the first time since April 2017 on Tuesday, and went even lower on Wednesday morning. It has also this week sunk to its weakest against the euro for more than six months, with the single currency hitting highs above 90.5p. Sterling was supported yesterday by a key vote in Parliament which makes it more difficult for a no-deal Brexit to be forced through.

The boost to UK companies’ competitiveness in overseas markets from a weaker pound has failed to turn into export success. Those Tory Brexiters who can look past their ideology for long enough to think about the economy might be frustrated about this. However, given the uncertainty for businesses in the UK and to a lesser extent elsewhere created by the whole pathetic folly of Brexit, no one should be surprised that UK exports are in grim shape.

Many people from the UK who are holidaying overseas, and are already paying a high price for the plunge in sterling brought on by the Brexit vote back in summer 2016, must be wishing Mr Johnson and Mr Hunt would just keep their mouths shut. When they talk, sterling seems to fall, and this makes holidaying abroad even more expensive.

There seems to be a patriotic drive by some Brexiters to boost their beloved Blighty by holidaying at home. While they may be preferring patriotic “staycations”, they are, like all Brexiters and Remainers, paying the price of the Leave vote every day, given the huge damage already done to UK growth and living standards. The Office for Budget Responsibility yesterday flagged a risk of the UK entering a “full-blown recession”.

The latest bluster and hot air from Messrs Johnson and Hunt signal things could get a lot worse quite quickly, although the hope remains that the will of the UK Parliament, in terms of its vehement opposition to a no-deal Brexit, prevails.