It tells you something when the Government seems happier talking about Covid than Brexit.

Downing Street has some other stuff on its plate right now but we shouldn’t be fooled.

Brexit has become an albatross round its neck.

There are now less than seven weeks before Brexit becomes a reality affecting every single one of us and there is still no deal in place. Just consider the sheer enormity of that fact.

I’m past railing against the lies and the promise of “the easiest trade deal in history”.

That’s long since been exposed for the guff it always was. We are where we are.

What is distressing now is that in spite of the unprecedented public health crisis and the worst downturn since the war, Downing Street is determined to compound the nation’s pain. It has declined to extend negotiations or recognise the reality that has been staring ministers in the face since 2016: that the EU really isn’t going to give in to every British demand.

After four years of posturing, British negotiators now have a week – just a week – to pull the rabbit out of the hat.

The wrecking ball option of a no-deal Brexit, which was presented to us as highly unlikely, is now a scarily real possibility.

That said, a last-minute deal still has to be more likely than not. Boris Johnson wouldn’t wish to preside over anything as laughably self-destructive no-deal – would he?

But we know already that any deal that is done will be basic, because that’s all there’s been time for – a bare bones agreement to stave off tariffs and quotas but leaving businesses tearing their hair out with delays and bureaucracy, the vital services sector disadvantaged and the British public having to plan weeks ahead if they want to travel or do business in Europe.

Priti Patel hailed the end of free movement when the Immigration Bill passed through Parliament in Monday, a reminder of the impulse that brought us to this pass.

But let’s just consider what that means, shall we, because it’s not just our EU friends wanting to visit Britain who are affected: British citizens’ ability to travel, live and work freely in the EU, is over.

Marking the moment, composer Howard Goodall has warned his fellow creatives on Twitter of what they might need to do from January 1 if they are hoping to tour or work in Europe: get full travel and health insurance; sort out separate work visas with each individual country; spend hundreds of pounds for the right to travel with a musical instrument; make sure any van or haulier carrying equipment has a haulage licence; prepare for long waits at Dover and for data roaming charges across the Channel. To get the gigs in the first place, performers will have to compete with EU counterparts whose employers face none of those additional costs.

Goodall is understandably sceptical about these issues being resolved with a last-minute deal, denouncing it all as “pointless, retrogressive and counterproductive”.

It’s a similar story for other sectors. Businesses have been told to prepare but they still haven’t a Scooby what they’re preparing for.

It won’t be good. Even with a deal, there will be new customs processes and what the Road Haulage Association calls “a mountain of new paperwork”.

Even with a deal, lorries will require permits just to get into Kent. Michael Gove himself has warned there will be truck queues in Dover that in a realistic worse case scenario could run to 7,000 vehicles and delay trade by two days.

Even with a deal, some small Scottish seafood processors could be forced to shut down, such will be the impact of all that extra bureaucracy, industry leaders warn.

In short, the Government – one which, hilariously, badges itself as a champion of free trade – will have catapulted us back decades into passport queues, lorry parks and form-filling. “Fettered trade”: I wonder why they didn’t use that slogan.

And for what? What are we gaining? What is the end game here: where are the concrete, guaranteed benefits we will receive in return for the concrete, guaranteed benefits we’re giving up?

That is surely the key question. Where’s the gain?

Bilateral trade deals are not guaranteed, take years to negotiate and come with more costs, such as demands to lower standards and open up markets to corporate interests in ways that make many voters deeply uncomfortable.

The most ardent Brexiters seem positively to yearn for the pain of a no-deal Brexit, as a necessary purgative on the journey to pure sovereignty.

But they never had the right to impose that on the rest of us. They still don’t. We simply didn’t vote for it.

The sticking points of a deal are fishing and the level-playing field rules. Now is surely the time for pragmatism. The Government should agree to abide by European rules, on workers’ rights, the environment and state aid. Believe it or not, many of those standards are rather popular on these islands.

And if they don’t “get it done”, then what? Well, then we will be engaging in the most astonishing act of self-sabotage. Ministers will try and convince us of the joys of an “Australian-style deal”, as a no-deal Brexit has been rebranded.

But call them chips or call them sautéed potatoes, they’re the same thing. We’d have tariffs, quotas and chaos. We’d be trading on World Trade Organisation rules, meaning higher prices for all, the savaging of the car industry and agriculture, and yet more job losses. And we’d lose co-operation in other areas, like policing.

Brilliant strategists that they are, ministers may be hoping they can hide their Brexit mess under a blanket of Covid misery come January.

I think they might be kidding themselves.

Many of us, especially in Scotland, did not want this to happen. Personally, I believe Britain is a nation facing a decline in relative global importance and will find future security and prosperity within a wider family of nations. Brexit is likely to precipitate the break-up of the UK, which will only diminish its standing.

But I accept that it’s happening. Like most people, I just want it done as responsibly as possible, in a way that causes people and businesses minimal pain.

There’s going to be damage; the question is how much.

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