IT is difficult to decide whether the final days of negotiations between Brexit Britain and the European Union to hammer out something a bit less unworkable on the Northern Ireland protocol were most like a soap opera or box-set season finale.

There looked to be briefings galore from the UK side, with the Rishi Sunak administration appearing keen to make a big show of what was going on. And there was a big focus on what the Tory arch-Brexiters, notably the so-called European Research Group, and the Democratic Unionist Party, coalition partners of the Conservatives when Theresa May was prime minister, were making of it all.

Much of the electorate has, of course, not seemed particularly well informed on the implications of Brexit for years now even as they have unfolded for all to see.

So the whole drama over the Northern Ireland protocol in recent days has raised a worry: that the electorate at large might think the deal finally unveiled on Monday means many of the ill effects of the foolish decision to leave the EU will now disappear.

Little could be further from the truth.

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The Prime Minister’s own declamations on the subject seem unlikely to help people see the reality of the situation.

Mr Sunak had declared ahead of the deal’s unveiling: “There’s unfinished business on Brexit and I want to get the job done.”

The Northern Ireland protocol in the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement was formulated painstakingly to avoid the re-emergence of a hard border on the island of Ireland, creating a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea. Northern Ireland, to avoid checks and controls on the island, has under these arrangements been required to apply EU customs rules and align with a list of single-market regulations.

Politically, the new deal on the protocol is clearly important to Mr Sunak and his Cabinet, which is packed full of Brexiters.

The Conservatives decided in their previous Brexit negotiations with the EU that they were willing to accept the existing protocol arrangements as a cost of realising their wish for a hard departure from the world’s largest free-trade bloc. For reasons best known to themselves, they had decided before they started negotiating Brexit that they wanted out of the single market and the customs union, even though the electorate had not been asked about these matters but rather only about the question of EU membership.

And the associated anti-immigration stance from the Tories, which has so damaged the economy, proved popular among some sections of the electorate.

The Tories then decided they did not like what they had signed up for on the protocol, amid bureaucratic hassle and seeming political embarrassment, and wanted to change it. And they have appeared to try to blame the EU for the difficulties, even though the protocol was something put in place to enable the hard Brexit so desired by the Conservatives.

Now a deal has been done to ease significantly the passage of goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland but not going on to the Republic of Ireland, in terms of customs requirements and checks.

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The new arrangements might make life a little less tricky for businesses having to deal with the effect of Brexit on trading and movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland

However, the simple truth of the matter is that the big economic damage of leaving the EU has not gone away or even dissipated in any significant way at all. And it is crucial people recognise this.

There is a danger that they may not, given some of the rhetoric, including that from Mr Sunak.

First we had the “Get Brexit Done” sloganeering from the Tory Brexiters, as if it were something which happened at a point in time and then had no future effect.

Brexit was said to have been “done” in January 2020 but thankfully the UK was protected for a time during a transition period which enabled the country to remain a member of the European single market until December 2020.

Of course, there were major ill-effects of the EU departure folly long before December 2020, with business investment hammered by Brexit-related uncertainty and net immigration from EU countries plunging because of worries about what the future would hold in the UK.

HeraldScotland: First it was Get Brexit Done – but the UK was protected for a time from Brexit's harms during the transition periodFirst it was Get Brexit Done – but the UK was protected for a time from Brexit's harms during the transition period (Image: Getty)

That said, things most definitely took a lurch for the worse at the end of December 2020 when membership of the single market and customs union was lost.

Now we supposedly have “unfinished business” being done.

Nothing has been “done” or “finished”, regardless of how much the Tories might want to spin away, or distract attention from, the hugely negative effects of their Brexit debacle, which are surely apparent to them even through their ideological blinkers.

It seems more obvious by the day, and it was pretty clear from the outset, that Brexit is all about ideology for those who back it, including Mr Sunak. So we should perhaps not be surprised that the Conservatives appear not to care about the overall economic damage from it or the grim effects on businesses and households.

Mr Sunak and every member of his Cabinet should know that the effects of Brexit, which for the avoidance of any doubt are hugely negative, will play out over years and decades.

The Prime Minister crowed on Monday on Twitter: “Today’s agreement delivers smooth flow of trade within the United Kingdom. We have removed any sense of a border in the Irish Sea. Food available on supermarket shelves in Great Britain, will be available in Northern Ireland – including sausages.”

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The “any sense of a border” might be pushing it. And there was a smooth flow of trade with in the UK before Brexit, and no issue with sausages. The British economy is already paying a very heavy price for the loss of the huge benefits of frictionless trade with the world’s largest free trade bloc and the ending of free movement of people between the UK and European Economic Area countries. Exporters have faced grim times.

And the loss of free movement of people has exacerbated the UK’s skills and labour shortage crisis, greatly limiting the economy’s potential. It has also caused misery for so many individual businesses, of all sizes, and greatly affected a vast array of sectors.

None of this changes with the deal delivered this week by Mr Sunak and his administration.