The National:

 OVER the years, supporters of Brexit have sought to advance a range of different, if unconvincing, arguments for leaving the EU.

Old favourites include: “The EU is not democratic enough” and “an EU army is about to be established.” In fact, the European Parliament is directly elected and the EU Council is made up of national politicians.

On the latter, EU member states don’t even have mutually compatible military equipment, let alone the political desire to create a superarmy.

Yet, of all these lacklustre arguments in support of Brexit, the most tenuous of all is that “the EU is bad for the economy.”

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The EU single market – one of the Union’s twin hearts along with the Euro – is a global powerhouse of economic activity. The EU is one of the largest economies in the world, along with the US and China.

It is little surprise then that, back when he was head of the Scotch Whisky Association, UK Cabinet Office minister David Frost – Boris Johnson’s Brexit negotiator – spoke unfavourably of Brexit.

Frost noted that it was in the interests of Scottish businesses to be in “the biggest possible market with the fewest possible barriers.” Indeed, he queried: “Why would we want to depart from that?” A satisfactory answer to that question remains to be unearthed.

The contrast between the same person showcasing anti-Brexit views as a business chief and pro-Brexit zeal as a government negotiator might cause some embarrassment to the modern politician.

Or perhaps not in London these days, for the root of such discrepancy is the Eurosceptic populism which has taken over Westminster politics.

The entire premise of the Brexit project, as conducted first by Theresa May and then even more eagerly by Boris Johnson, is that our relationship with our fellow Europeans doesn’t matter that much.

Its raison d’être is to pretend that our geopolitical, economic and social interests do not rest in Europe, with our closest neighbours. Its mission is to embrace the fiction that the UK is not an intrinsic part of Europe.

To be part of the project, one must subscribe to this alternate reality. What was once bad for businesses and consumers becomes good for them. A distant EU-UK relationship, previously a source of uncertainty, fear and pain, is now a cause for celebration. Freedom is achieved at last.

Frost’s business incarnation was correct. No economic reason existed for the UK to leave the EU. It was not in the interests of businesses, workers or consumers – large or small, in Scotland or throughout the UK. They are now further disadvantaged by the minimal EU-UK deal in place.

Political attention has focused in recent days on post-Brexit legacy negotiations and the Northern Ireland protocol. The UK Government now wants the role of EU Court of Justice in the protocol to be removed. The EU would find that extremely difficult, if not impossible, to accept. The ECJ has established that only it can definitively interpret EU law.

Frost made an inflammatory speech on the subject yesterday in Lisbon. The European Commission is due to announce its latest proposals today. I would urge the EU to be cautious in its approach. In truth, whatever the EU offers may never be enough for the UK Government.

The European Commission prides itself on its rationality, attention to evidence and openness to compromise (though, of course, it has its politics, too). The UK Government is not operating on the same basis.

If the UK continues to pursue a hardline strategy, potential international partners will surely question the wisdom in, for instance, concluding a trade deal with a government that threatens to discard its agreements.

Many in Scotland will recall Frost using his valedictory comments as head of the SWA to declare that he would remember Edinburgh for its “filthy streets.” He would probably not be the best choice for a future UK government negotiator on Scottish independence.

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As we know, the UK government was successful in its project. Brexit was regrettably realised. No route can return us to what used to exist.

Three potential paths could allow us to regain what has been lost. The UK could seek a closer relationship than the current deal; the UK could rejoin the EU; or Scotland could join the EU as an independent state.

None of those options will be available in the short term. We will unfortunately live with the current EU-UK deal. The least the UK Government could do now would be to not make matters even worse.

Anthony Salamone is Managing Director of European Merchants, the political analysis firm in Edinburgh