RED Tractor sounds like it might be the Trotskyite wing of the National Farmers Union. In fact, it is the voluntary scheme set up by farmers and producers, north and south of the Border, to guarantee food quality by ensuring that produce so labelled is traceable back to British farms. It also assures that food comes from farms which look after their animals. But the Red Tractor could be about to end up in the ditch.

Brexit is supposed to throw Britain open to food producers from across the world. Free market Brexiters like the economist, Ruth Lea, think our food is much too expensive. We could import it for 10 per cent or 20 per cent less from non-EU countries. What a boon that would be to the ordinary Joe doing his weekly shop in Lidl. Except that if you expose the UK food industry to this kind of competition from low-cost producers, it’s unlikely that the Red Tractor would remain viable. Scotland has some of the highest standards of cattle rearing on the planet and beef farmers would go out of business if standards drop.

This isn’t just about the risk of chlorinated chickens and hormone-raised beef – both currently banned by the EU – from flooding the supermarket shelves. What about agricultural produce from the low-regulation countries of North Africa, the Middle East, even India? It is not easy to talk about food imports without lapsing into a neo-colonial mindset which disparages developing countries, and of course many of them can produce food of the highest quality.

To much of the world, the EU regulations Britain adheres to look like protectionism. But there is a reason why we only import only four per cent of our food from Africa, which should be a global food provider: much of it just wouldn’t meet our quality standards. Red Tractor isn’t going to Nigeria anytime soon.

These are the real bread-and-butter, food-on-the-table Brexit issues that the UK Government has avoided addressing for the last eighteen months of panglossian waffle. And it is still avoiding them. The Brexit Secretary David Davis (or Mad Max as he’ll likely be called after yesterday’s speech in which he insisted that Brexit was not a Mel Gibson apocalypse) was still insisting that all will be for the best in the best of all possible Brexits. Britain will keep the highest standards that already exist in Europe, and double down on them, making our standards even better than theirs.

But this surely begs the question: A), why we are leaving the EU in the first place and B), what possible benefits can we derive from regulatory divergence? The whole point of Brexit was supposed to be to liberate Blighty from the red tape of Brussels bureaucrats so that our boys could start trading in the markets of the rest of the world. Whatever happened to the bonfire of red tape?

Back home, the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, (aka Green Lantern, now he’s started to lace his ministerial pronouncement with lefty environmental themes like animal welfare), was trying to square the Brexit circle in a speech to the National Farmers Union. And no, he did not let on what was happening to the Scottish Parliament’s agriculture powers post-Brexit. Devolution has entered the nether-world of EU-issues that-shall-not-speak-their-name.

NFU farmers north and south of the Border broadly have the same big ticket demands. They want free movement of agricultural labour to get in the harvest; they want friction-free access to the single European market; they don’t want low quality imports driving them out of business; and they do want the £3 billion or so in farm subsidies to remain. Now, you might have thought that since the main reasons we left the EU was to end free movement, escape the single market bureaucracy and abandon the protectionist Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), that Mr Gove would give them a stern lesson on how Brexit means Brexit. But it was not to be.

The former leading light of Vote Leave accepted the need for immigration, and compliance with the rules of the single market, and he has made clear the CAP farm subsidies will last for five years. “Agriculture needs access to foreign workers,” he told farmers, “whether it’s stockmen and dairy workers or the official vets in our abattoirs, 90 per cent of whom are from EU27 nations.” I’m not sure Nigel Farage would agree, but Mr Gove went on to say that farmers needed “action quickly” or else millions of tons of fruit and vegetables would rot in the fields due to a lack of workers. So free movement is to stay for farmers. And unfettered access to the EU: a free trade area we have just left. And we won’t drop standards to let in cheap imports.

This may all make sense to someone in the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU), but it makes very little sense to the rest of us. Brexit is beginning to look like one of those dodgy deals cooked up by Independent Financial Advisers to con Welsh steel-workers into giving up their pensions. You promise the riches of the earth and then, when it gets down to the fine print, you realise that you’re going to be worse off than before. When is Brexit going to be held to account for breaching trading standards? It’s an insult to pigs in a poke.

Theresa May is eventually going to have to admit what is blindingly obvious: that it’s simply not practical to sever all those complex relationships we’ve built up over 40 years with our biggest trading partners, the EU 27. We have food standards for a reason: we get half of our food imports from Europe because we trust it and they trust us. We look after our livestock reasonably well because we follow European standards. Our regulations have to be the same as in Europe because that’s where most of our exports go. Our farmers are subsidised to keep them in business. We are a small country on the edge of Europe whose destiny is inextricably bound up with the fate of the continent. This is not going to change. The idea of and alternative “global Britain” is a chimera, a fantasy borne of nostalgia for the British Empire. You can’t hitch Brexit to the Red Tractor.