IT is less than two weeks since a Conservative Government consumed with Brexit fever dragged us out of the European single market and already the spectacular circus of shambles brought to us by Johnson, Gove et al is in full swing.

Of course, much of the damage the arch-Brexiters are inflicting on the UK economy and society with their folly will play out over years and decades.

However, there has been plenty so far to show what everyone should have known. Brexit, which has weighed so heavily on the UK economy in recent years in terms of uncertainty, will take a very heavy toll now that the protections against its effects that had been afforded by the transition period have come to an end.

Boris Johnson, in the run-up to the referendum in 2016, seemed keen to paint a picture that the UK could have Brexit but still have frictionless trade with the EU, the world’s largest free trade bloc.

Of course, Mr Johnson has ensured that trade will be anything but frictionless with the brand of hard Brexit favoured by himself, the arch-Brexiters in his Cabinet, and his backers in the background. He talks about the UK having its cake and eating it with his deal, reviving one of his previous tiresome analogies. This is nonsense.

HeraldScotland: Boris Johnson Picture: Oli Scarff/PA WireBoris Johnson Picture: Oli Scarff/PA Wire

The UK could have had its Brexit (and the Leavers could have banged on about the “will of the people”) but remained in the European single market and customs union. This would have been the least-damaging form of Brexit. It would have meant continuing to accept free movement of people between the UK and European Union countries – something that is in any case valuable to the economy and society – and abiding by EU rules with positive effects on crucial matters such as workers’ rights and the environment.

However, this is not what European separation is all about for Tory Brexiters. Protections for workers and the environment do not seem to be their kind of things. And Mr Johnson and his fellow arch-Brexiters also got stuck on their fantasy that a damaging separation from the EU would give the UK sovereignty. The UK’s sovereignty was never in question as part of the EU. So the sovereignty situation has not changed in any meaningful way with Brexit. But what has changed is that the UK’s influence and power on the global stage is much-diminished because of its go-it-alone strategy, as it has separated itself from the powerful EU bloc.

The UK dug its heels in doggedly over regulatory alignment with the EU, when it came to the question of long-term commitments to abiding by food and other product standards and so on. This ensured very protracted negotiations and a total lack of time for businesses and households to prepare for the hard Brexit deal that Mr Johnson eventually delivered.

This lack of time was highlighted well by James Withers, head of industry body Scotland Food & Drink, over the weekend.

Scotland’s seafood sector, for which speed of delivery of premium product to mainland Europe is crucial, has already been paying a heavy price for the Tory Brexit, with huge transport delays caused by the UK’s exit from the single market and customs union and attendant major bureaucracy.

Mr Withers tweeted the following “Brexit update” on Sunday: “More messages from food exporters who are finding the door to the EU is now shut. Haulage firms won’t take their loads; bureaucratic/IT systems failing. A multi-billion pound trade system is being tested for the 1st time, in real time. And it’s going wrong.”

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One person who has had major responsibility for Brexit preparations is Michael Gove, Minister for the Cabinet Office.

Mr Gove, from an external perspective, seems to have a massive ideological passion for Brexit. And, of course, there is plenty of spin when it comes to politics.

Nevertheless, it has been frustrating to see a lack of embarrassment from Mr Gove about what is going on. He has remained breezy and cheerful and unapologetic, amid the Tory shambles and incompetence in the run-up to the UK exit from the single market and since.

We must not forget, now and in years to come, that the Conservatives had the chance to park exiting the European single market – at least for a while and maybe eventually more permanently if cool heads had prevailed – as the coronavirus pandemic wrought havoc on the UK and countries around the world. That would have been the responsible thing to do. Instead, the UK Government went out of its way to ensure it would not be extending the transition period beyond December 31, no matter what.

So here we are. As predicted – and it was hardly a difficult forecast to make – Brexit is already adding in a big way to the major damage to the UK economy from the human tragedy that is the coronavirus pandemic.

And what we get from Mr Gove is that disruption at the UK border has not been “too profound” yet.

So what has Mr Gove got to offer on this front? Not much, it seems. Unsurprisingly. An admission that there will be further major disruption, which at least acknowledges a small part of the reality of Brexit. And an offer to tell companies some more about the piles of paperwork they have to complete, which they never had to bother with before the UK chose to throw away its valuable membership of the EU and single market, seemingly in large part because of the sovereignty delusions of arch-Brexiters.

Mr Gove said last week: “It is the case that, in the weeks ahead, we expect that there will be significant additional disruption – particularly on the Dover-Calais route.”

This is not good news for companies already struggling with so many other difficulties, or for households, amid signs already of shortages of some food in supermarkets. And it shows just how far away Mr Johnson’s narrow deal with the EU – which it should also be underlined covers goods but not the huge services sector – is from enabling frictionless trade with the EU.

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Mr Gove said the Government would “redouble…efforts to communicate the precise paperwork that’s required in order to make sure that trade can flow freely”.

Maybe it would be a better situation to have no paperwork, Mr Gove? How about some frictionless trade? Like that afforded by being part of a major free trade bloc, for example?

Of course, we are already seeing some further frightening manifestation of aspects that many who favoured remaining in the EU have long believed are behind the ideological Brexit drive.

We have already, sadly, seen full manifestation of the anti-immigration part of the Brexit push. The Conservative Government has already legislated to clamp down on immigration to the UK from other EU countries. This move will of course be hugely damaging in terms of the economy and society given the enormous benefits there were from free movement of people between the UK and EU countries. But that has not stopped the clampdown being celebrated loudly by the likes of Home Secretary Priti Patel.

Arch-Brexiter Daniel Hannan, nominated recently by the Prime Minister as a Tory peer, has wasted no time in making noise about protections offered by the EU which he says can now be scrapped, including safeguards on workers’ rights, the environment, and the use of people’s data. It should go without saying why protections in these areas are crucial to society. And it is important to recognise the economic benefits of adequate safeguards and rights for workers, in terms of ensuring proper employment conditions and giving people the confidence to spend money and support aggregate demand. Of course, businesses and the economy at large also derive major benefit from projects which aid the environmental effort.

Mr Hannan also flagged EU regulations relating to the likes of hedge fund managers, securities markets, and genetically modified (GM) foods.

In an article on the ConservativeHome website, he expressed general displeasure with “regulatory barriers – everything from planning restrictions that inflate the cost of housing to staff ratio rules that give us the most expensive childcare in Europe”.

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He declared: “I could fill a longer article than this one simply by listing them. Consider, as just one subsection, the EU laws we can now disapply: the Temporary Workers’ Directive, the REACH Directive, the End of Life Vehicles Directive, the droit de suite rules and other regulations that hurt London’s fine arts market, the Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive, chunks of MiFID II, GDPR, the bans on GM.”

We should, of course, have been in no doubt all along about the Tory agenda on exiting Europe. And Mr Johnson has surely delivered the type of hard Brexit that will help further this agenda.

We should be worried about this. Very worried. And we should also be deeply concerned about the utter shambles arising from the loss of frictionless trade, as well as the end of free movement of people, and the many other adverse effects of Brexit. While the drama might subside, the barriers, inconvenience and costs are here to stay. The damage will rack up. It is a dismal situation.