THIS was the week when the EU stubbornly refused to collapse, yet again. Two much-publicised EU crises did not turn out as the hardline Brexiteers fervently hoped. The inevitable wrangle over coping with the financial effects of an unprecedented human disaster was eventually resolved, at least for the time being, and the dramatic flouncing out of the head of the European Research Council turned out to be more a case of jumping before being pushed by his boardroom colleagues.

At a time of high tension and great fear it is not surprising that there is internal pressure in every organisation, big or small. How such bodies and their leaders react is the real issue as we see every day in the fascinatingly and farcically grim White House press conferences.

No matter the daily problems it is therefore to the credit of all four UK governments that they are working together to ensure a consistent and clear approach to a common problem.

Of course there will be differences in devolved delivery because of difference in circumstances, patterns of business and ways of life. That will cut both ways and is a strength, not a weakness.

However some big divisions remain and the biggest is on the issue of Brexit.

A Wednesday night tweet from the UK chief negotiator seemed to confirm that it was business as usual in the process, which is indeed what the devolved governments have been repeatedly told whenever they have urged a pause.

However I don’t think it is quite that clear cut.

As the tweet confirmed, at a high level there continues to be an exchange of legal texts (which the devolved governments have not seen) and there is also some much-reduced civil service activity, preparing positions and trying to work out what effect their outcomes would have. But politically there is also a degree of shadow play, most probably designed to give the impression of progress in order to keep the extreme Brexiteers quiet whilst considering ways to try to force through the hardest of deals without public and parliamentary scrutiny, using time pressure as the excuse. That is, anyway, what is being increasingly feared in Brussels.

READ MORE: Why Scotland must redouble its efforts to build links with the EU

The fact that there is, and can be, no real detailed negotiation at this time was obliquely confirmed on Friday morning when it became clear that the UK-US trade talks have been postponed indefinitely.

The truth is that no meaningful work towards any new relationship with anyone can take place when the bandwidth of every government is entirely taken up – as it must be – with saving lives.

In addition the UK stance also has the advantage for them of avoiding some deeply troubling and very fundamental questions about the country’s ability, post-pandemic, to bear the costs of Brexit.

There has never been any doubt that any form of Brexit would be damaging but the most damaging is the one that the UK has chosen.

Its effect will be, as the UK Government’s own figures show, only marginally less devastating than a complete “no deal”. For Scotland that will mean a fall in GDP of at least 6% by 2030, equating to £9 billion or more.

Moreover the time and effort businesses will spend on changing systems, developing new procedures and securing even existing markets will all require a huge amount of commitment and determination.

The economy of the UK was already showing signs of Brexit strain before the pandemic hit and the publication on Thursday of the new proposals for a points-based immigration system indicates very graphically just some of the new and costly burdens which are going to be placed on business in a single area of government activity.

The point at which this is all meant to kick in will be when the economy is reeling from the worst crisis in our lifetimes – much worse than the recession a decade ago and, in the view of the IMF, comparable to the Great Depression of the 1930s. It will need every bit of resource that our entire society can beg, borrow or scrape together to avoid crippling long-term damage to all our businesses, workers, families and communities.

Yet the UK Government – alone – believes that the economically regressive effect of a self-inflicted Brexit can be blithely added to that mix as well.

If it does so then the UK will, in full view of the rest of the world, be fiddling its way back to an economic Stone Age whilst Rome (and the rest of Europe) rebuilds from the burning.

Whatever the “will of the people” was in June 2016 (though it was never the will of the Scottish people) is no longer the issue. Nor is the fact December’s election was won (though again not in Scotland) by promising to “Get Brexit done”. That was in another time. Everything has changed utterly and forever, right across the globe.

There is an urgent need for the UK now to accept that change and act on it.

Firstly a formal pause in the negotiating process is essential. That is available at the July 1 break point so the UK should confirm it will ask for it, for the two years on offer.

Then as recovery eventually begins we will need a further debate about the alternatives to the Brexit proposals as they stand. At the very minimum that means accepting the safety net of single market and customs union membership for whatever period it takes the UK, European and world economies to get back on their feet.

We also need to recognise that as such a recovery may – indeed must – produce a very different economic model, co-operation with others with similar values in securing and implementing it will be essential

Europe is our continent and its values are our values. We will need to make a new world with our neighbours, not apart from them.

Brexit was an idea of its time but that time has gone.

Scotland is in lockdown. Shops are closing and newspaper sales are falling fast. It’s no exaggeration to say that the future of The National is at stake. Please consider supporting us through this with a digital subscription from just £2 for 2 months by following this link: Thanks – and stay safe.