NEARLY four years on from the UK’s lamentable Brexit vote and it seems the best Boris Johnson can come up with is something that will make many think of Esso advertising from decades gone by.

In recent days the UK Government has formally told the European Union it will not extend the transition period, which has so far protected the country from the actual effects of Brexit following the technical implementation of this departure on January 31. The foolish behaviour of not extending this protection had appeared increasingly inevitable given the Conservatives’ refusal to heed a raft of common-sense pleas, from the Scottish Government and others, to hit pause on exiting the European single market so as not to compound the economic fall-out from the coronavirus crisis.

On the Theresa May government’s own forecasts, that now leaves the UK facing very significant further economic damage from the start of next year, under any scenario, as the country loses the benefit of free movement of people and truly frictionless trade. The degree of damage will depend on whether or not there is a deal and, if there is, on the terms of any such free-trade agreement, but it will be considerable and protracted whatever the case.

READ MORE: Ian McConnell: Will anything make Johnson and Co. stop Brexit folly in its tracks?

Mr Johnson, for his part, seems unperturbed about the economic impact of leaving the single market. Of course, he won his December General Election victory on the pledge that the UK would leave the single market by December 31, whatever happened.

Back in the spring, there had seemed a possibility that what the UK and other countries around the world are having to deal with in terms of the awful coronavirus pandemic might enable a reconsideration of this hidebound stance. After all, the pandemic was an unforeseen event at the time of the December election. However, it has become increasingly clear over recent weeks that this Conservative Government is, to use Margaret Thatcher’s slogan from 1980, not for turning.

Mr Johnson, as he attempted to accelerate talks between the UK and EU which have been going round in circles for months and years, on Monday asked EU leaders to “put a tiger in the tank” of the stalled discussions.

This seems entirely in keeping with the attitude to date of Conservative Brexiters to discussions with our European neighbours, and indeed to the whole lamentable exercise of dragging the UK out of the EU. Come up with a soundbite. It also chimes with the general impression that this current vintage of Tories does rather like playing to the gallery. All too often it seems, from an external point of view, the snappy slogans are not backed up by any kind of sensible plan that has a chance of mitigating some of the Brexit damage.

The “Get Brexit Done” slogan is the classic example of form over substance, though sadly it went down a treat with the UK electorate. As the Tory Brexiters never tire of telling us, the UK left the EU on January 31. Except, whatever impression they might have wished to portray to the electorate, nothing changed at that point, with the transition period insulating the UK from the impact of the Brexit folly.

READ MORE: Ian McConnell: Tories embrace their Brexit folly and chase American dream, giving ‘anyone but EU’ impression

The original “put a tiger in your tank” slogan, which is certainly up there with the most memorable advertising jingles of the 20th century but seems meaningless in the context of the Brexit talks, was created in 1959 by Emery Smith, a young Chicago copywriter tasked with producing a newspaper advertisement to boost sales of Esso Extra. It is a slogan which has stayed in people’s minds for decades.

One wonders what Mr Johnson will come up with next, as the UK faces up to effects of Brexit that will last for decades.

Is he going to mimic Tony the Tiger from the advert for Kellogg’s Frosties, and declare that Britain is “Grrreat!”? Such a move would seem entirely in keeping with the British nationalist fervour that has dominated the broader Brexit movement.

Incidentally, it was interesting to hear this week how much the makeover of the VIP plane used by Mr Johnson is costing. A Downing Street spokesman confirmed the makeover of the RAF Voyager, with a Union Flag-inspired, red, white, and blue paint job, would cost about £900,000.

Charles Michel, president of the European Council, came up with a suitable retort to Mr Johnson’s “tiger in the tank” bluster on Monday. He declared the EU would not buy a “pig in a poke” and would never accept an agreement which went against the bloc’s interests.

It remains such a shame that the British people were sold “a pig in a poke” by the Brexiters. And it is even more lamentable now, given the squeeze on living standards amid the surge in unemployment arising from the economic fall-out of the coronavirus pandemic.

It seems truly incredible in terms of any rational consideration that the Conservatives have now formally informed the EU of their decision not to extend the transition period. The EU, of course, had been bending over backwards to hold out the olive branch of extension amid the coronavirus crisis.

Then again, maybe we should not be surprised at all by the Tory stance, given that Brexit has always been about ideology. For too many arch-Brexiters, it seems to have been about xenophobia and clamping down on immigration. For some, it has been about a perception of Britain’s might on the world stage that harks back to days of Empire, and is woefully outdated. In any case, Brexit has never seemed in any real way to be about the economy or the living standards of ordinary people, millions of whom were told by the Leave camp back in 2016 that the EU was to blame when in fact they had been squeezed so relentlessly by Tory austerity. Exiting the single market will of course, whatever the Brexiters might say, damage living standards and the economy, and big talk of desired trade deals will not change that.

Of course, it was no surprise to hear the UK Government talking loudly about potential for a trade deal with Australia in the immediate wake of its confirmation that there would be no extension of the transition period.

READ MORE: Ian McConnell: Brexit circus tensions build as UK and EU reach critical point

We have also seen so, so much excitement in recent weeks from the UK Government over its trade talks with the US, which to the external observer surely look fraught with difficulty and might have at least as many negatives as positives.

The UK Government has noted in a paper on its sought-after trade deal with the US that such an agreement could, in the longer term, boost UK gross domestic product by around 0.07% or 0.16% under two different scenarios. These are absolutely tiny percentages relative to what the UK stands to lose from Brexit.

The ideological approach from the UK, in terms of the Government’s continuing baffling assertion of a sovereignty that was never in question, was writ large in a statement from the Cabinet Office after the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee met on June 12 by video conference.

The meeting was co-chaired by Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove, and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic.

The Cabinet Office statement after this meeting went as follows: “The UK took the opportunity provided by this second meeting to emphasise the UK’s decision not to extend the transition period. There will be no further opportunities to extend the transition period. The UK will regain its economic and political independence on 1 January 2021 at the end of the transition period and uphold a key demand of the British people.”

The “no further opportunities” reference seems to suggest some smugness over boxing oneself into a corner.

Following the “high-level” meeting between the UK and EU on Monday, involving Mr Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, UK chief negotiator and former Scotch Whisky Association chief executive David Frost highlighted a joint commitment to “intensify the talks in July”. And if possible to find “an early understanding on the principles underlying any agreement”. This would seem to rather emphasise just how far apart the two sides are. This is not about fine-tuning details.

As the Brexiters celebrate sovereignty they have had anyway, it will be ordinary people who will pay as misery is heaped upon misery on the economic front with the loss of such valuable European single-market membership after December 31.