IF big talk and aggressive swagger secured free trade deals, the UK would have long ago wrapped up an agreement with its long-suffering European Union neighbours.

That is not the way the world works though, so the ramping up of the rhetoric by the UK side ahead of a crunch round of talks this week on the future relationship with the EU does not bode well.

It was only last autumn that Parliament was doing a fine job in reining in the European separatist excesses of the arch-Brexiters, with moderate voices in the Conservative Party such as those of former chancellor Kenneth Clarke and erstwhile attorney general Dominic Grieve engaged fearlessly in the best interests of the country.

Large numbers of high-profile Conservatives joined forces with MPs from other parties in an attempt to ward off a hard, no-deal Brexit. And they had the Conservative whip removed for their troubles.

Sadly, their efforts appear to have been in vain, with the landscape having changed when Labour was goaded by the Boris Johnson camp into a general election at a time of the Brexiters’ choosing. Mr Johnson secured a convincing majority and the rest is history.

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

The Brexiters, of course, tried to paint those days when Mr Johnson and the Leave brigade were being thwarted as showing shortcomings of Parliament. A lack of ability to get things done. Or rather to get one thing “done” – Brexit.

But those days in fact highlighted quite the opposite. They showed the strength of Parliament, as MPs from all parties joined forces to act in the best interests of the electorate.

With Mr Johnson’s power base secured in last December’s election, the signs are that his adviser Dominic Cummings, who played such a big part in orchestrating the Leave vote in 2016, has been able to rule the roost.

There has for many months now been a staggering and most unhealthy lack of any dissent from within the Conservative ranks over the UK Government’s foolish, full-tilt rush towards the European single market exit door on December 31, with it having refused the option to extend the crucial transition period even amid the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

We are living in strange times – in which the priorities of many Tories look very different to those of Lord Clarke and Mr Grieve. The Herald revealed over the weekend that high-profile Scottish Tory Ruth Davidson had taken issue with being called “Baroness” by BBC Scotland political editor Brian Taylor. Given the mass unemployment facing the UK with the Conservatives’ refusal to extend the furlough scheme and the Brexit fiasco, is the question of someone’s title or otherwise really something to which Tory time and energy should be directed? Or anyone else’s time and energy for that matter?

READ MORE: Opinion: Ian McConnell: UK level playing field rejection in Brexit talks like not changing ends on famous Scottish football slope at Beith

Yawning differences remain in the talks over the UK’s future relationship with the EU, notably over the bloc’s requirement for a “level playing field” on crucial matters such as state aid, and on a fisheries issue which has been whipped up by the Brexiters into a most emotive thing.

The UK is less than four months from leaving the largest free trade bloc in the world. And not only will it lose truly frictionless trade, it will be giving up the huge benefits of free movement of people to and from other EU countries and the economic advantages of immigration which come with this.

Since Mr Johnson’s election victory, at which point any lingering prospect of remaining in the single market disappeared amid the dominant ideology of Brexit, the only hope has been that the UK Government might act sensibly to mitigate the damage by securing as comprehensive a free trade deal as possible.

At this late stage, it is difficult to escape the notion that such a deal is far less of a priority for the UK Government than pandering to Brexit-minded British or English nationalist sentiment by thumbing its nose at the EU on trade.

The UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, who formerly headed the Scotch Whisky Association, signalled in a weekend newspaper interview that he is not “scared” of leaving the EU without a deal.

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

When you hear this talk from Lord Frost and the likes of Brexiter Cabinet ministers, the thought that comes to mind is that a no-deal departure is something that seems unlikely to cause them much of a problem personally. Hence such bold statements are easy for them to make. So, when they say they are not scared, they probably mean it. But it is ordinary people on lower incomes who will bear the brunt of what would ensue from a no-deal Brexit, in terms of another huge hit to the economy and living standards.

Arch-Brexiter Nigel Farage was swift to heap praise on Lord Frost on Sunday.

He tweeted: “Good to see the UK chief negotiator, David Frost, talking about UK independence. It took a long time but without the UK Independence Party none of this would have happened, it is a great tribute to the people’s army.”

It is difficult to tell whether or not such an endorsement will have been ambrosia and nectar to the Conservative Government, even if the Tory Brexiters and Mr Farage have the same overriding aim of leaving the EU in a dramatic way.

Mr Farage often seems like a broken record.

And so at times does Mr Johnson, with the assertion emanating from him in recent days that leaving with no deal if the trade talks with the EU were to collapse would still be a “good outcome” for the UK. It remains impossible to conceive of a world in which this could possibly be good.

Remember that Mr Johnson in early July, after another week of no significant progress in talks with the EU, signalled a belief on radio station LBC that a no-deal departure from the single market when the transition period ends would be a “very good option”. He talked about an “Australian-style arrangement” rather than specifically about a no-deal outcome. Australia does not have a free trade agreement with the EU.

But saying that a no-deal departure from the single market is a “very good option” or a “good outcome” does not change the actuality – that it would in fact be an extremely bad scenario for the UK, its economy, and the living standards of its citizens. No amount of hot air is going to change that.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has in recent days talked about a “moment of reckoning” in the EU talks, while reiterating the UK’s perennial walk-away threat.

Mr Johnson has noted that a deal would have to be reached by mid-October so that it could be implemented by the year-end.

Of course, this is a timescale dictated only by Mr Johnson and his Government’s refusal to extend the transition period, which came into effect following the UK’s technical Brexit on January 31 and has so far protected the country from the actual effects of leaving the EU by maintaining single-market membership.

Alarmingly, we also now have reports of a threat from the UK side to introduce legislation to modify a key element of the withdrawal agreement already done with the EU, in relation to Northern Ireland.

Lord Frost took to Twitter on Friday to set out the UK’s stall once again ahead of the latest round of talks this week.

His comments will not have filled those who want to see a comprehensive free trade deal with hope.

He said: “We have scheduled lots of time for discussions, as we should at this point in the talks. However, the EU still insists we change our positions on state aid and fisheries if there are to be substantive textual discussions on anything else.

“From the very beginning we have been clear about what we can accept in these areas, which are fundamental to our status as an independent country. We will negotiate constructively but the EU’s stance may, realistically, limit the progress we can make next week.”

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier last week referred to the negotiations with the UK as “difficult”, while reiterating that his side would continue the talks with patience and determination.

There has been so, so much hot air and big talk from Mr Johnson and his Cabinet in recent days on Brexit, even by their normal standards.

As the clock ticks down to the realities of Brexit, households and businesses already up to their eyes in dealing with the grim economic fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic and huge uncertainties must hope that common sense rather than some kind of Great British swagger will prevail.

It is surely a time to focus on the seriousness of this situation, putting egos and ideology to one side.