AS the UK’s Brexit farce has spun around in circles at full tilt this week, one big question has crystallised: what would it take to make the Conservative Government do the sensible thing and extend the transition period?

It is impossible to overstate the importance of kicking the notion of leaving the European single market, and the attendant huge economic damage to the UK, into the long grass.

Countries must remain focused on minimising deaths from the coronavirus pandemic. Governments around the world will also have to work very hard to rebuild economies, huge parts of which have been shut down to save many thousands of lives.

The relatively swift recovery in output that was viewed as at least a possibility back in March now looks increasingly unlikely as a raft of employers unveil huge job cuts. Engineering company Rolls-Royce’s announcement this week of plans to cut around 700 jobs at its plant at Inchinnan in Renfrewshire is among the bitter blows we are seeing to livelihoods and the economy.

In Scotland and the UK as a whole, and in many other countries around the world hit hard by coronavirus, government efforts on the economic front must be focused on doing everything possible to support living standards, as the crucial fight to minimise the Covid-19 death toll continues.

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In this context, the Conservative Government’s continuing utter determination and unseemly haste to leave the European single market – a move which forecasts drawn up by the Theresa May administration show will cause major economic damage over many years under any scenario – look ever more incongruous. It is surely ever more difficult for anyone but the most ardent of Brexiters to argue the UK Government’s behaviour on the Brexit front is not absurd.

Sadly, this remains an ideological drive, with arch-Leavers having shown little sign of being satisfied with their technical Brexit on January 31, albeit many would at the same time probably try to pretend this official departure from the EU means the withdrawal has actually happened in a meaningful way. It has not, of course.

The all-important transition period, which runs to the end of 2020 and can be extended by up to two years if the UK Government asks, has of course ensured the actual effects of Brexit have not been felt yet by ensuring continued frictionless trade and free movement of people. That is the reality of the situation.

And there have been plenty of other realities, if only the Tory Brexiters would take a look.

One big catalyst for crystallisation of the question of what would make the Conservative Government perform a u-turn on its stubborn insistence to leave the European single market on December 31, “no matter what”, was car manufacturing giant Nissan’s intervention this week as fears of a no-deal Brexit mount. The Bank of England also underlined the importance of UK banks preparing for the possibility of a no-deal exit from the European single market.

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It is easy to see why no-deal fears are mounting, with the UK and European Union looking as far apart as ever on massive broad issues. And the July 1 deadline by which an extension to the transition period of up to two years must be agreed is obviously very close now.

The EU’s chief negotiator in the talks with the UK over the future relationship, Michel Barnier, emphasised his view ahead of the resumption of discussions this week that the “UK has been taking a step back, two steps back, three steps back, from the original commitments”.

Mr Barnier meanwhile hammered home the importance of this week’s talks on Twitter.

He said: “A crucial week ahead of us to make tangible progress across all areas, in line [with] the political declaration. A high-level meeting later this month will take stock of progress.”

But the noises from Downing Street, claiming the EU was making “unprecedented” and “unbalanced” demands regarding a post-Brexit trade deal did not appear to bode well for progress.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said: “The political declaration sets out the potential scope of the future relationship; both we and the EU signed up to it. Any agreement based on it has to be balanced and represent a balance of benefits to both sides.

“In relation to the level playing field, the EU has insisted on including a set of novel and unbalanced proposals, which would bind the UK to EU law or standards or impose control over our domestic legal regimes. These proposals are unprecedented in free trade agreements and not set out in the political declaration.”

This comment does not look like something that Mr Barnier would regard as a step forward.

A Scottish Government study published this week has concluded that refusal by the Conservatives to agree an extension to the transition period would over two years cost the economy north of the Border up to £3 billion in cumulative lost activity on top of the “devastating effects of the coronavirus outbreak”. This is based on a projection that Scottish gross domestic product would, if an extension is not agreed, be up to 1.1 per cent lower than otherwise after two years.

The cumulative loss is put at nearly £2bn if a “basic trade deal” can be reached with the EU by December. The near-£3bn figure relates to a no-deal outcome.

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Publishing the results of the study, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs Michael Russell said: “Given the huge economic hit caused by coronavirus, it would be an act of extraordinary recklessness for the UK Government to refuse to seek an extension. The Scottish Government believes the best future for Scotland is to be an independent member of the EU – but regardless of people’s views on independence or Brexit, it makes no sense to impose additional damage on Scotland’s economy at this, of all times.”

It is certainly difficult to see how anyone, even an arch-Brexiter, could argue that imposing extra economic damage was sensible. And, regardless of political or constitutional views, extra economic damage is clearly not a good thing.

Mr Russell said: “I believe there is a growing common-sense coalition to press for an extension to avoid such a disastrous outcome and the needless damage it would do to Scottish jobs and our economy.”

Asking for an extension does surely seem like common sense, pure and simple.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has meanwhile this week noted the Scottish Government would have to divert resources from tackling the coronavirus crisis to no-deal Brexit planning if the UK Government continued to refuse to apply for an extension to the transition period.

She said: “[If] you take the Scottish Government, we are, as I think absolutely everybody would expect, focused on dealing with the coronavirus crisis.

“But if there is no extension request, we are going to have [to] divert resources from that to thinking about and starting to prepare for the consequences again of a no-deal Brexit.”

The First Minister added: “I would just appeal to common sense – does anybody seriously think right now that that is a sensible thing to be doing? I don’t, and I hope the UK Government comes to its senses.”

You get the impression that Mr Johnson and his Brexit-minded Cabinet colleagues will continue to turn a deaf ear to pleas for an extension, especially if they come from the Scottish Government.

However, there have been plenty of other warning signs for Tory Leavers this week on the Brexit front.

And the Nissan intervention should be viewed in this context as a brightly flashing warning light.

The Japanese group has emphasised this week that its Sunderland factory, the largest car manufacturing plant in the UK employing around 7,000 workers, will be unsustainable if the UK leaves the EU without a trade deal.

Nissan’s chief operating officer, Ashwani Gupta, highlighted the fact that the EU was the biggest customer of the Sunderland plant in an interview with the BBC.

He hammered home the importance of continuing tariff-free access to EU markets in the context of the Japanese car manufacturer’s commitment to Sunderland.

Mr Gupta signalled Nissan’s commitment could not be maintained if the UK did not reach a free trade agreement with the EU.

Asked about the Sunderland plant, he said Nissan was “committed” but warned that a change to the tariff regime would mean it would “not be sustainable”.

Mr Gupta added: “That’s what everybody has to understand.”

In a Scottish context, Charles River Laboratories has this week cited Brexit as a crucial factor in its decision on job losses at its biopharmaceuticals sites at Riccarton, near Edinburgh, and Tranent in East Lothian.

Graeme Turnbull, regional officer of trade union Unite, said of the US-based company’s decision: “This is devastating news for the workforce based at Charles River Laboratories. Around 60 workers face losing their jobs over the next year in very challenging circumstances. The company is citing Brexit as being the decisive factor in this announcement rather than the Covid-19 pandemic so they have not listened to our pleas to furlough the workers.”

Sadly, the answer to the big question of what would make the Tories halt the Brexit circus in its tracks, at least for a year or two, has not crystallised.

There seem to be increasing fears that some arch-Brexiters might regard the likely huge economic fall-out from the coronavirus crisis as cover for the significant additional damage that will be done from leaving the European single market.

Who knows to what degree these fears are on the money. However, whatever people might or might not be thinking, hopes of the UK Government hitting pause on the Brexit folly, to avoid compounding the economic damage arising from the coronavirus crisis, look increasingly forlorn.

The Conservative Brexiters have of course remained hidebound in pursuit of their European separation cause in spite of everything that has happened since the June 2016 vote to highlight the huge economic damage arising from their drive to tear the UK out of the EU bloc.

In the face of this week’s Brexit-related events, the Tory Leavers remain as stubborn as ever.

This only fuels the impression that this is a very ideological business indeed – one far, far detached from economic reality and common sense.