UTTER incredulity seemed like an only natural response upon hearing that arch-Brexiter Sir Desmond Swayne had declared it was “monstrous” that UK businesses had to fill in forms to trade with the European Union.

His comments seemed almost laughable. However, there has been nothing funny at all about this Tory hard Brexit and its detrimental impact on households and businesses already under great pressure at the most difficult of times, amid a global pandemic.

And while it is certainly remarkable Sir Desmond and other arch-Brexiters seem put out by new, friction-filled trading arrangements with the EU – which were inevitable with the UK’s hard departure from the European single market and customs union so craved by some vociferous Leavers – their attitude is not at all amusing but rather worrying.

After all, the Brexiters’ general lack of willingness to accept it is their actions which have caused such woe suggests we should not expect any particular effort from the Johnson administration to mitigate the damage caused.

Sir Desmond, a supporter of the Leave Means Leave pressure group, declared in Parliament last Thursday: “UK aid promoted trade in Africa by making borders seamless through digitising all the administrative processes. Is that on our agenda for trade with the EU at all? It is monstrous that we are filling in forms.”

Even taking into account the many astonishing comments and perceptions we have heard from arch-Brexiters over the years, this was surely a truly jaw-dropping moment.

UK trade was all pretty “seamless” before Brexit was it not, Sir Desmond?

When the UK was a member of the EU, it had frictionless trade with every other country in the world’s largest free trade bloc.

Then the UK chose to leave the EU. Not only that though: the Conservatives decided swiftly after the 2016 Leave vote, even though the electorate was not asked, that what the majority wanted was to exit the single market and customs union.

Then the Johnson administration ensured the UK went still further, refusing to even accept regulatory alignment.

The consequences for the UK’s exporters have, of course, been grim.

And the fault lies firmly at the door of the Johnson administration, and those, like Sir Desmond, who campaigned for the type of Brexit that would ensure huge dislocation.

Now we have Sir Desmond seeming to express surprise and annoyance about forms having to be filled in by businesses in the UK to trade with a bloc the Johnson administration made sure the country was ripped out of in the most dramatic of fashions.

Of course there was going to be a move from hassle-free trade to a world of customs declarations and complex veterinary and rules of origin requirements, and so on and so forth, as a result of exiting the single market and customs union and refusing to accept regulatory alignment.

There has been a fundamental shift in the UK’s trading relationship with the EU. This was instigated entirely by the UK. And “digitising” things is not going to change the reality that frictionless trade with the world’s largest free trade bloc has been lost.

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Sir Desmond, who hit the headlines in 2018 for apparently dozing off briefly during a debate in the House of Commons on Brexit, also seems from his “monstrous” comment to perceive some kind of injustice.

The only thing that could perhaps be called “monstrous” in this context is the hard Tory Brexit. That ill-judged crusade has been hugely unfair to so many businesses and to millions of households across the UK.

The damage will inevitably be huge.

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The Office for Budget Responsibility, set up by former Tory chancellor George Osborne in 2010 to provide independent forecasting, last October flagged again the ultimate tumble in UK exports and hit to productivity it expects from Brexit.

It said: “Since our first post-EU referendum EFO (economic and fiscal outlook) in November 2016, our forecasts have assumed that total UK imports and exports will eventually both be 15% lower than had we stayed in the EU.

"This reduction in trade intensity drives the 4% reduction in long-run potential productivity we assume will eventually result from our departure from the EU.”

The OBR added: “In summary, the evidence so far suggests that both import and export intensity have been reduced by Brexit, with developments still consistent with our initial assumption of a 15% reduction in each.”

Figures published by the Office for National Statistics last month show UK goods exports to the EU in 2021 were, at £152.27 billion, down by 11.8 per cent from £172.63bn in 2018. And UK goods exports to the EU in 2019 were £170.73bn.

The ONS noted “comparing 2021 with equivalent 2018 data provides comparisons of trade with our most recent ‘stable’ period”.

The Theresa May government forecast back in November 2018 that Brexit would, with an average free trade deal with the EU, result in UK gross domestic product in 15 years’ time being 4.9% lower than if the country had stayed in the bloc if there were no change to migration arrangements. Or 6.7% worse on the basis of zero net inflow of workers from European Economic Area countries. Lamentably, and to the detriment of the economy and society, the Tories have since clamped down dramatically on immigration.

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A survey of more than 1,400 small firms published in March last year by the Federation of Small Businesses showed 23% of small exporters had by then temporarily halted sales to EU customers and a further 4% had already decided to stop selling into the bloc permanently after new trading rules took effect at the start of 2021. In November last year, the FSB noted 21% of small exporters had stopped selling temporarily or permanently to the bloc. And a further 7% were considering stopping exports to the EU. So the effect has been major and lasting.

An FSB survey in January this year revealed nearly three-quarters of small exporters had seen flat or falling international sales in the latest quarter, a finding in stark contrast to the Tory Brexiter portrayal of Blighty as a colossus freed to strut the global stage once more as a trading powerhouse.

Sadly, the views from Sir Desmond and his fellow Conservatives, including Johnson Cabinet members, not only smack of British exceptionalism but also signal there is precious little chance of the Tories taking responsibility for their actions and trying to at least mitigate the damage from their folly.