EVEN by the incredible standards of the arch-Brexiters, when it comes to stubborn refusal to face up to the realities of their folly, Jacob Rees-Mogg went truly above and beyond last week.

The newly installed Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency declared that he thought “the evidence that Brexit has caused trade drops is few and far between”.

He also proclaimed: “I think Brexit has been extremely beneficial for the country.”

Back in the world in which the non-arch-Brexiters are having to live with the consequences of the Leave folly, the reality is very different indeed.

British Chambers of Commerce called last week for “urgent steps” from the Johnson administration as it published a survey of more than 1,000 businesses which highlighted a raft of problems with the UK’s post-Brexit trade deal with Europe.

This survey would seem like a far better basis on which to take stock of the impact of leaving the European Union than a couple of sound bites from a politician who is one of the most impassioned supporters of Brexit in the UK.

In the survey, only eight per cent agreed that the Trade and Co-operation Agreement was “enabling their business to grow or increase sales”, while 54% disagreed. For UK exporters, 12% agreed the TCA was helping them, while 71% disagreed.

When asked to comment on the specific advantage of the trade deal (for those that agreed) or disadvantage (for those which disagreed), 59 firms identified an advantage, while 320 cited a disadvantage, British Chambers observed.

Among comments received from the 320 respondents flagging specific disadvantages of the TCA, firms said it had led to rising costs for companies and their clients, smaller businesses did not have the time and money to deal with the bureaucracy it had introduced, and it had put off EU customers from considering UK goods and services because of the perceived costs and complexities.

These are major problems, and should be obvious for anyone who has made the effort and taken the time to watch what has been unfolding. Apparently, however, they are not obvious to Mr Mogg, given his “few and far between” comment and his even more bizarre view that Brexit has been “extremely beneficial”.

What is more, the “advantages” of the post-Brexit trade agreement with the EU cited by the small minority in the British Chambers survey make for interesting reading.

British Chambers said: “Of the 59 comments received on the advantage of the TCA, firms said: it had allowed some companies to continue to trade without significant change; it had encouraged firms to look at other global markets; it had provided stability to allow firms to plan.”

The first of these appears to be an “advantage” relative only to a situation in which there had been a no-deal Brexit. “Without significant change” signals that preserving as much as possible of how firms were able to trade with the EU before Brexit has been a desire even of those businesses which agreed the TCA was enabling them “to grow or increase sales”.

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The second “advantage” cited is also interesting. Firms were always able to target markets anywhere in the world, and indeed the EU has many trade deals with countries across the globe. It is also worth noting that being “encouraged” or forced to do something because of adversity created by the UK Government, in this context the loss of frictionless trade with the EU, is hardly an “advantage”, in a conventional sense.

And the third “advantage” flagged, in terms of stability to allow firms to plan, again seems only like a positive relative to a no-deal Brexit scenario. It certainly does not appear to be an “advantage” relative to EU membership, which for decades provided a perfectly stable backdrop against which to plan and prosper.

Setting out the realities of the situation, British Chambers head of trade policy William Bain said: “Nearly all of the businesses in this research have fewer than 250 employees and these smaller firms are feeling most of the pain of the new burdens in the TCA.

“Many of these companies have neither the time, staff or money to deal with the additional paperwork and rising costs involved with EU trade, nor can they afford to set up a new base in Europe or pay for intermediaries to represent them.”

Nothing “few and far between” when it comes to finding firms being hampered by the post-Brexit trading arrangements with the EU then, Mr Rees-Mogg.

Of course, there are plenty of other places Mr Rees-Mogg can look if he cannot see the Brexit damage.

He could, for example, read the report on Brexit published earlier this month by the cross-party Public Accounts Committee, which is chaired by Labour MP Dame Meg Hillier.

Dame Meg summed the situation up well as the UK Parliament’s oldest select committee concluded “it is clear that EU exit has had an impact” on UK trade volumes and that “new border arrangements have added costs to business”.

She said: “One of the great promises of Brexit was freeing British businesses to give them the headroom to maximise their productivity and contribution to the economy – even more desperately needed now on the long road to recovery from the pandemic.

“Yet the only detectable impact so far is increased costs, paperwork and border delays.”

The independent Office for Budget Responsibility declared last October that Britain’s supply bottlenecks had been “exacerbated by changes in the migration and trading regimes following Brexit”.

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Exporters across a raft of sectors, from seafood to engineering, have faced major problems in doing business with the EU post-Brexit. And companies have been hit hard by loss of skills and labour shortages with the ending of free movement between the UK and EU as part of the Johnson administration’s hard Brexit.

Scottish Engineering chief executive Paul Sheerin, commenting on the results of its most recent survey late last year, observed that “in the crucial skills area, one-quarter of members have been impacted by the loss of EU nationals”. This is a big, and widespread (not few and far between) effect, with major ongoing ramifications.

The Scottish Government noted recently that, “in the first nine months of 2021, Scotland’s food and drink exports to the EU were 12.1% lower than the equivalent period in 2019”.

It is alarming that a politician such as Mr Rees-Mogg, who apparently believes the evidence of Brexit having caused trade drops is “few and far between”, has a job in the Cabinet which you would have thought should have been about mitigating the damage done by leaving the EU.

After all, the “opportunities” promised by the Brexiters have proved to be as imaginary as they appeared in the run-up to the 2016 referendum. The fantastical notions seemed to be fuelled by a great desire by some to return to the bygone days of Empire. In contrast, the Brexit damage has been plain to see in economic data and expert analysis, as well as crucially in views from businesses on the front line. This evidence, whatever Mr Rees-Mogg believes, has come thick and fast.

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And how on earth is he going to get on top of his new brief if he cannot see the evidence?

That is, of course, assuming that this new brief involves helping out businesses and households hampered immensely and paying a heavy price as they pick up the tab for the Brexiters’ folly.

This might be a big leap in terms of an assumption, however, given any signs that Brexiters care about the impact of their ideological crusade on households and businesses the length and breadth of the UK have been somewhat less than few and far between. It was interesting to hear Scottish Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Angus Robertson tell Mr Rees-Mogg he would be viewed by most people in Scotland as the “minister for removing opportunities”.

Brexit certainly has removed huge opportunities, not only for exporters and companies which prospered over the years with the help of EU workers but also for people in general in terms of the loss of the ability to study, work or live anywhere in the huge bloc.

Mr Rees-Mogg should reflect on this.