SINCE coming to power, the Conservatives have shown a staggering ability for making bad situations worse.

They choked off recovery from the global financial crisis and ensuing recession with an incredibly ill-judged austerity programme, the scale and mix of which was exactly what the economy did not need.

Then they had an entirely unnecessary Brexit vote – seemingly in large part to settle long-running internal Tory squabbles – with its lamentable result.

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And then, amid a coronavirus pandemic which is taking a terrible toll and has caused huge economic damage as lockdowns and other restrictions necessary to save many lives have been put in place, the Conservatives have refused to extend the transition period which has enabled the UK to remain in the European single market.

Of course, this is all about ideology and the Conservatives have consistently refused to listen to reason on Brexit.

They should, though, because the end of the transition period, which has protected the UK from the actual effects of their foolish Brexit since the country technically left the European Union on January 31, is now less than two months away.

Of course Michael Gove, now Minister for the Cabinet Office, declared ahead of the 2016 Brexit vote that “people in this country have had enough of experts”.

Thankfully, the experts have continued to do their work and tell things as they are on Brexit.

Their expert analyses on Brexit will in the main have made very uncomfortable reading for a Tory Government hell-bent on ripping the UK out of the European single market on December 31, come what may. And doing so regardless of the fact this will heap further huge difficulties on businesses and households already under massive strain from the pandemic. Of course, to say these expert views will have made uncomfortable reading is to assume members of the Government have bothered to look at them. Cabinet members’ behaviours, from an external viewpoint, would suggest they have no great interest in reading up on the effects of what they are doing.

But this inept Tory administration really needs to listen. A report published this week by the highly regarded Institute for Government think-tank on the impending effects of Brexit, whether there is a deal or not, should be on the Cabinet’s essential reading list.

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This report warns that the “devolved administrations, local authorities and businesses may well be overwhelmed” as they have to deal with the effects of Brexit, arising from the end of the transition period on December 31, amid the coronavirus pandemic. You would think this is something the Tories might care about. After all, they make much of the importance of the Union and have, somewhat surprisingly given their dismal economic track record, been regarded traditionally as the party of business.

Sadly, the Conservatives have a habit of not listening. Remember the shambles of the Margaret Thatcher and Nigel Lawson boom and bust? And what about the long-term damage to the UK economy from the large-scale dismantling of the manufacturing sector during that protracted period of Tory rule?

Populist sentiment abounds around Brexit, with a Daily Express headline declaring this week: “EU are you watching? UK secures another trade deal as Commonwealth alliance strengthens.”

The many Brexiters who would put the Commonwealth above the EU, the biggest free trade bloc in the world which neighbours the UK, really need to have a good look at the hard numbers on trade.

In 2019, 43% of UK exports went to EU countries. Last year, the Commonwealth in its entirety accounted for 9.3% of the UK’s exports. So UK exports to the EU were about five times those to the entire Commonwealth. You might not have gathered that from listening to Brexiter politicians’ patriotic prattling, as they hark back to days of Empire with copious amounts of British nationalist sentiment.

We also continue to hear much tub-thumping from Brexiters on fisheries, and access to UK waters.

However, amid all this populist din, it is surely crucial at this stage, given how close we are to the grim effects of Brexit crystallising, to take stock of where we are.

Yes, the UK continues to try to negotiate a relatively narrow trade deal with the EU. This would avoid an utterly chaotic no-deal departure from the single market. But it would mitigate only to a very small extent the huge economic damage which will be done to the UK economy over years and decades from the loss of truly frictionless trade with the country’s biggest trading partner and from no longer having the benefits of free movement of people between the UK and EU countries. It is important people realise this.

The matter of whether there is a deal or not appears still to be very much up in the air.

Updating on this week’s discussions with the UK, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier tweeted on Wednesday: “Despite EU efforts to find solutions, very serious divergences remain in Level Playing Field, Governance & Fisheries. These are essential conditions for any economic partnership.”

UK chief negotiator David Frost tweeted: “We’ve just finished two weeks of intensive talks with the EU. Progress made, but I agree with @MichelBarnier that wide divergences remain on some core issues. We continue to work to find solutions that fully respect UK sovereignty.”

Remember the Conservatives’ own forecasts of the economic damage arising from leaving the European single market, drawn up by the Theresa May government? This analysis projected UK gross domestic product would on a 15-year time horizon be 4.9% or 6.7% lower than if the UK had stayed in the EU even if an average free trade agreement were reached. The lesser forecast for damage is based on no changes to migration arrangements. The Tories have, however, moved swiftly to clamp down on immigration so the no-changes scenario is clearly over-optimistic. The greater prediction for damage assumes zero net inflow of workers from European Economic Area countries.

The Institute for Government, which works to “make government more effective” and is funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, makes no bones about the Brexit situation and what the UK will face in short order, whether or not a deal is reached.

Publishing its report this week, entitled Preparing Brexit: How ready is the UK?, the think-tank declared: “The Prime Minister’s refusal to extend the Brexit transition period, despite the devastating effects of the coronavirus crisis in the UK and the EU, means that neither the Government nor businesses will be fully prepared when the UK leaves the EU on 31 December.

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“With just eight weeks to go until the UK leaves the EU single market and customs union, regardless of whether a new EU-UK deal is reached, this report warns that: the Northern Ireland Protocol will not be ready to implement on 1 January 2021, disruption at the EU-GB border is inevitable due to poor trader readiness and EU checks, [and] the Covid-19 crisis means many UK firms are less prepared than they were last year.”

All very important points.

So what should the Conservative Government do, and what challenges will it face?

The think-tank says: “The Government will need to be ready to manage the impact of the transition period ending alongside coronavirus. It will need to step up its contingency plans and prepare to make difficult decisions about where to prioritise resources. Unlike its preparations for a possible no deal last year, the Government will now need to do this alongside a resurgence of coronavirus. This will be difficult, and the Government has made its task harder still with its decision not to extend the transition period. Even if the UK civil service has the necessary resources to do so, the devolved administrations, local authorities and businesses may well be overwhelmed.”

Given the seeming smugness and self-satisfaction among members of Boris Johnson’s Brexit-supporting Cabinet, it is not quite clear that they realise the scale of the challenges ahead. Or maybe they do but do not much care. After all, households and businesses, and under-pressure civil servants, will bear the brunt of the effects of the Brexit folly. And the UK Government has shown something of a lack of regard for the likes of the Scottish and Welsh governments over recent months when it has come to pleas for support from the Treasury amid the coronavirus crisis.

The Institute for Government also declares:“The Government has recently been criticised for failing to share all its Brexit planning documents with the devolved administrations, and there have been similar examples of the government failing to share sufficient data with local authorities during the pandemic. This needs to change before 31 December.”

This is a good point too.

But who thinks this will actually change?

To many people, who are appalled by, rather than wrapped up in, the insular and at times xenophobic ideology of Brexit, the points made by the Institute for Government on the practicalities of what the UK and devolved nations will have to deal with will be fairly obvious.

However, there is little to suggest common sense has been obvious to many of those in senior roles in Conservative administrations since 2010.

And current Cabinet members seem alarmingly unable to see the realities at all, through their red, white and blue Brexit goggles.