The same goes for the China deal. In November 2014, it was described by Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb
as: "by far the most comprehensive and ambitious agreement that China has struck with any country in the developed world".
The take-home point here is that modern trade deals are complex affairs, covering a wide range of issues. There are no short cuts and they are always going to involve long and complex negotiations. In the Australian-China deal, one of the key sticking points had been investment thresholds
, limiting the ability of state-owned Chinese enterprises to buy farmland in Australia.
A review of the agreements shows that the issue of regulatory harmonisation was by no means central. One of the main obstacles to an agreement with South Korea had been its insistence on investor-state dispute settlement provisions
, following the legal dispute over plain packaging with tobacco giant Philip Morris. Thus, the UK expectations that a swift agreement with the EU can be reached, purely on the basis of notional regulatory convergence, is entirely unrealistic.
Much as the "hard brexiteers" would wish otherwise therefore – to say nothing of the Government – there are no reasonable grounds for expecting a trade agreement to be reached within two years. No amount of fantasising or manipulation by the likes of Matt Ridley will make any difference to that.
In actuality, only by resorting to distortions and self-delusion can any case be made for achieving a trade deal within a two year period, other than one involving a craven surrender which would leave us considerably worse off than we are now. Even Lamy's estimate looks generous.
That then leaves us with the idea of a transitional deal, but we are no further in our pursuit of clarity than we are with other issues. A Government which continuously tells us that it is possible to reach a deal in two years is not one that can be relied upon to craft a workable interim solution.
When we add to this the latest intelligence
, that the EU will seek a resolution to the financial issues before moving on, things start to look extremely grim. But still we get idiots such as Jacob Rees Mogg
prattling about the merits of the WTO option, insisting that countries such as China and the United States work exclusively under WTO rules.
We have reached a situation, though, where facts no longer seem to have relevance. When people like Rees Mogg, and Ridley, Peter Lilley, John Mills, John Redwood and many others, are confronted with facts that contradict their beliefs, or pose obstacles to their desired solutions, they simply ignore them.
In other respects, we see either an inability to tease out the facts, or a culpable ignorance, where people do not seek out facts they might not want to hear. It is instructive, in this context, that when I gave evidence to the Treasury Select Committee, Rees Mogg was present but did not ask me a single question.
When you have people who are ignorant because they prefer it that way, wilfully ignoring good evidence because they don't like what they are hearing, it changes the dynamics of the debate. It's no longer a question of the best arguments. It becomes an issue of who can should the loudest, who has best access to the media, or who has the most "prestige".
Nevertheless, facts are still facts, and one fact is that we've comprehensively caught out Matt Ridley. His "shorter" Australia-South Korea deal is actually longer then the EU equivalent and, on a like-for-like basis, took longer to negotiate. When it comes to timing of any trade deal we might agree with the EU, Ridley hasn't got case. His answer, doubtless, will be to shout louder and ignore the facts from low-born upstarts.
But one might recall that this is the man who eventually admitted to a "catastrophic black mark
" when describing his leadership of the failed Northern Rock Bank.
And this is the man who is telling us that we can do a trade deal inside two years – all on the basis of a "conversation" with an Australian politician. Such predictions are no more safe with Ridley than were the unfortunate depositors of Northern Rock.