GIVEN the actual weakness of the much-vaunted and over-hyped “Boris bounce” in the UK, it always had the look of another false dawn for the struggling domestic economy.

There have been plenty of such false dawns in the near-decade that the Conservatives have been in power. On Budget day, it seems apposite to remember former chancellor George Osborne’s vision in March 2011 of “a Britain carried aloft by the march of the makers”. Whatever happened to that? There has been plenty more bigging-up of the UK economy by the Tories over the years but the reality has been that it has been a dismal decade.

We should also reflect on Budget day on the fact that UK public sector net debt has surged from about £1 trillion when the Conservatives came to power in 2010 to more than £1.8 trillion.

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We have heard a lot since mid-December about the “Boris bounce”. To be fair to Boris Johnson, this phrase has been spouted a lot by external commentators, as opposed to coming from the mouth of the prime minister.

However, it is important to realise this so-called “bounce”, in the wake of Mr Johnson’s decisive majority in the December General Election, was only viewed by economists as equating to quarterly growth of about 0.2 per cent. This is, in a historical context and to put it mildly, no great shakes.

And all of this before the continuing impasse between the UK and European Union over a future trade agreement began to manifest itself again, as it has done within the last fortnight.

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The unfolding global human tragedy of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak has quite rightly been at the forefront of many people’s minds. The knock-on impact on economies and financial markets has also been in focus.

This has meant the latest revelations about the scale of the differences between the UK and our long-suffering EU neighbours have figured less prominently than would have been expected under normal circumstances.

In short, the re-start of negotiations between the UK and EU last week seems to have gone pretty badly, even taking into account the normal posturing and bargaining positions in such talks. There seems, at a basic level, to be a simple lack of cordiality from the UK side. This is in keeping with the tough talk on Europe from Mr Johnson and his adviser, Dominic Cummings.

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What seems to be becoming ever plainer is that Mr Johnson and his Government want to push the EU as far away as possible, while still benefiting from some kind of trade relationship.

The UK Government seems at pains to avoid following EU rules, at times giving the impression that this is an ideological stance removed from consideration of the quality of the regulations or the potential benefits of following them. It has also signalled a lack of appetite for an extensive treaty on defence and security with the EU.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said on Monday: “We want to have a very good relationship with our British friends.”

She talked about the importance of the UK making up its mind, declaring: “The closer they want to have the access to the single market, the more of course they have to play by the rules that are the rules of the single market.” And she observed that, if this were “not the UK’s choice”, then “they will be more distant and it will be more difficult for the UK to access the single market”.

This is quite right. Mr Johnson cannot have his cake and eat it.

A spokesman for Mr Johnson seemed far less open to exploring a range of options for the future relationship than Ms von der Leyen, declaring: “The UK has made up its mind very decisively and has been very clear about what it wants from its future relationship with the EU. The UK’s position is the one which secured a significant majority for the prime minister in the December General Election.”

Surely, Mr Johnson and his spokesman would not expect the mood of the UK public to sway the position of the EU, which must look after the interests of its continuing member states? The EU position has, throughout, seemed entirely reasonable, and the bloc has laid out the options available to the UK, to enable the Conservative Government to make its choice.

While the UK growth that emerged in January and February was unspectacular, and nothing like a bounce, it represented an improvement on stagnation in the final three months of last year. However, economists had, weeks ago, before the coronavirus outbreak took a lurch for the worse, flagged likely developing headwinds from Brexit uncertainty.

The coronavirus outbreak has understandably rattled significantly the already-fragile confidence of households and businesses in the UK.

After a session in which the UK All-Share Index entered bear-market territory, the Institute of Directors on Monday night published a survey showing the confidence of UK business leaders had plummeted amid the developing coronavirus epidemic.

That said, it is important to note business leaders’ confidence about the prospects for their organisations and the economy had already by February deteriorated sharply from a peak in December.

We should recognise the “Boris bounce” for what it has been – a fallacy.

And we must not lose sight of the UK Government’s continuing apparent obstructiveness, or at least foot-dragging, on a future EU trade deal, even at a time when the focus is understandably on coronavirus.

Of course, the public health implications and human cost of the coronavirus outbreak should absolutely be the focus right now.

However, as and when this unfolding epidemic eventually passes, people in the UK will be living for years and decades with whatever future arrangement the Conservative Government comes to with the EU, if indeed it does.

The Brexit situation is, therefore, well worth the watching in the tumultuous weeks and months ahead.

Mr Johnson and his Government have refused to countenance continuing single-market membership, beyond the end-2020 close of the transition period which the prime minister has said he will not extend.

So UK citizens will inevitably have to pay a big price in terms of lost economic potential and the associated effect on living standards from the Conservative Government’s folly, not least in terms of its planned immigration clampdown. This will absolutely affect people’s lives.

What is being negotiated now is a future trade agreement. This does not look to be going well and, unless the UK Government thinks about taking a more conciliatory approach before too much more time passes, the price for ordinary people of Brexit will only increase still further.