THE latest Great British furore over what seem like perfectly reasonable demands from our long-suffering European Union neighbours for a level playing field on key issues such as state aid brought to mind one of the best-known slopes in Scottish football.

Specifically, it conjured up the notion of a Boris Johnson XI looking to play a team captained by European Union chief negotiator Michel Barnier on Beith Juniors’ famously sloping pitch at Bellsdale Park, in a game in which the UK team plays downhill and refuses to change ends at half-time.

Such an arrangement would, of course, from the point of view of fairness, seem unreasonable.

In reality, the contest the UK seems determined to have with the EU post-Brexit will be played out over years and decades, rather than over 90 minutes. However, this makes it all the more understandable that the EU would seek a level playing field on key issues, such as on state aid to companies to ensure fair competition is not distorted, as a prerequisite for a free trade agreement.

READ MORE: Opinion: Ian McConnell: If this is not time-wasting, just what is the Tory Brexit game?

It appears to be the EU’s demand for a level playing field upon which the UK side is focused as it reportedly once again threatens to exit the European single market with no deal when the transition period runs out on December 31. And this is the issue on which coverage in Brexit-supporting sections of the media has been focused, in some cases with the now customary “how dare they” tone in terms of the attitude to the EU.

The argument continues from the UK side along the lines that Japan and Canada did not have to sign up to such a level playing field to secure free trade deals with the EU. However, these countries are far away from the EU, not right next to it. And they are not countries which decided, for no apparent reason other than ideology from elements of the ruling Conservatives, to leave the biggest free trade bloc in the world.

The EU side has pointed out that the UK is not Japan or Canada. The UK has presumably heard this, but it appears that it does not want to listen.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Monday that the Brexit talks were not advancing “because of an intransigent and, let’s be clear, unrealistic attitude of the United Kingdom”.

And Mr Barnier has within the last fortnight underlined his belief that the UK is wasting “valuable time”.

On August 21, he declared: “We are worried about the state of play of the negotiations with [the] UK. We do not see how we can have a better agreement if we leave the most difficult subjects to the end. We risk running out of time.”

And he could hardly have been clearer, in his statement at the end of that week’s talks, on the level playing field situation.

Mr Barnier said: “The need for a level playing field is not going to go away. Even if the UK continues to insist on a low-quality agreement on goods and services only. It is a non-negotiable pre-condition to grant access to our market of 450 million citizens, given the United Kingdom’s geographic proximity and the intensity of our economic exchanges.”

READ MORE: Opinion: Ian McConnell: Johnson and Cummings need to see UK as others do and fast, as Brexit fiasco rolls on

We are now less than four months from the European single market exit door, and with it the loss of the free movement of people to and from EU countries and the truly frictionless trade which have been so valuable to the UK.

The protracted talks to secure a future free trade deal with the EU do seem to lack the degree of urgency and flexibility required from the UK side to move things forward. Even taking into account negotiating positions and differences, it does still look, in this regard, as if the French Foreign Minister has a point.

UK businesses, already hammered by the economic fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic, are left in limbo as to the future arrangements between the UK and its most important trading partner. And there remains plenty of uncertainty for individuals affected to greater or lesser degrees by the Brexit fiasco.

It was interesting to note accountancy firm KPMG warn this week of the potential for a no-deal Brexit to hamper the UK’s recovery next year very significantly.

The UK Government, with all its Brexit folly, gives the impression of a team which would repeatedly balloon the ball over the bar even if it were allowed to play both halves of a game downhill against EU opposition at Beith. Or maybe it would just be a procession of own goals from the UK side, even when it would be easier to go in the other direction.

After all, this is a Government that seems prepared to heap further damage on businesses and households which are facing the greatest of uphill tasks as a result of the plunge in economic output arising from necessary steps to save many thousands of lives amid the awful coronavirus pandemic.

READ MORE: Opinion: Ian McConnell: Will chlorinated chicken pose risk to Union amid Brexit farce?

Hopefully, the UK side recognises the gravity of the situation and what is at stake before the final whistle, in terms of trying to mitigate the scale of the inevitably heavy defeat from leaving the European single market under any circumstances.

It is difficult to know the degree to which the UK Government does recognise the reality of the situation privately. In terms of what is in the public domain, we have the information campaign slogan, “The UK’s new start: let’s get going”. An ostrich, its head and some sand come to mind.

We have the constant threats from the UK side to walk away from the talks. While hopefully but maybe not probably a negotiating stance (albeit a far-from-convincing one if it is), this attitude also seems to encompass a continuing could-not-care-less approach from some of the Brexit brigade, which we have seen for years now. It seems many arch-Brexiters do not care whether or not the UK leaves the single market with a trade deal, and that some would actually prefer a no-deal departure.

The Brexit talks, in terms of the UK approach, continue to resemble a circus, big on the spectacular and aimed at entertaining and captivating the masses rather than focusing on the realities of the situation.

On Friday, The Guardian reported that Mr Barnier was “a little bit flabbergasted” at what was described as a renewed attempt by the UK Government to reopen the chapter of the Brexit divorce treaty protecting specialty food and drink, such as Parma ham, Roquefort cheese and champagne.

The newspaper reported that, according to EU sources, the UK was attempting to water down protection for EU geographical indications, while keeping the special status for British produce such as Scotch whisky and Cornish pasties.

One can only hope that dilution of EU geographical indications is not a key focus for the UK side, given how little time is left.

Mr Johnson and co. were keen at the start of this year to paint a picture that Brexit had been done on January 31. It was, but only in the most technical of senses and the transition period has so far saved the UK from the actual effects.

These effects were, of course, analysed by the Conservative Government when Theresa May was prime minister. Forecasts drawn up by the May administration showed very significant damage to the UK over years and decades under any Brexit scenario.

This was, of course, before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Governments around the world are severely stretched in trying to deal with the Covid-19 crisis. It was to be hoped, given these huge challenges, that the UK might at the very least delay the reality of Brexit by extending the transition period by the mid-year deadline but, of course, it refused to do so.

In recent days, we have read reports about the danger of food shortages and even water-rationing if a second wave of the Covid-19 coronavirus coincides with a no-deal Brexit.

It remains difficult for countries around the world – and their citizens and businesses – to forecast how the coronavirus pandemic will develop.

However, the Brexit situation is one of the Conservative Government’s own making. And the Tories still, even at this late stage and after all their mistakes, have plenty of opportunity to mitigate their mess.

What the years since the Brexit vote have confirmed is that this was always an ideological drive by Conservative Brexiters.

The big question now is all about how willing the UK Government is to mitigate the damage. This will be a crunch month for progress or otherwise in the talks with the EU. However, we seem from the UK side to be seeing the same jingoistic playing to the gallery that we saw back in the spring.

The economic fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic makes it more crucial than ever that the UK Government acts swiftly to mitigate the damage from its Brexit crusade. This damage is absolutely the last thing the UK needs right now from the point of view of its economy or living standards.

The fear, however, is that some of the forces pushing for the hardest of Brexits all along might view the grim economic fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic as something that will in coming weeks divert attention from the dangers of a no-deal exit from the single market on December 31. And mask the dismal effects, at least for a short while. The UK Government must reject any such attitude. If ever there was a time for doing the right thing for the actual good of the population at large, Brexiters and Remainers alike, it is now.