IT was perhaps an acknowledgement of the Himalayan challenge ahead when David Davis, the UK’s main protagonist in the Brexit talks, and Michel Barnier, his Brussels counterpart, exchanged climbing-related gifts as their negotiations began; a book on mountaineering and a hiking stick respectively.

Just a few weeks ago, Brexit had seemed comparatively straightforward.

The theory went something like this. Theresa May, riding high in the polls, calls a snap election to get a stronger mandate, wins a landslide and the next two years are a fairly unimpeded ascent towards a hard Brexit; out of the single market and out of the customs union.

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The reality, however, is somewhat different. Having asked for a stronger mandate to see her up and over Mount Brexit, the public said think again about the route.

Now, the hardened Brexiters like Michael Gove contend that the basic map to withdrawal is unchanged. The vote of June 2016 has to be honoured. In effect, to use Mrs May’s words from another context,“nothing has changed.”

Equally, the Government’s opponents insist the election means everything has changed. Their argument is that you cannot call an election, base it on Brexit, and when you lose the majority you had, insist it is business as usual. Something has to give.

The political reality is there is now a majority at Westminster against a hard Brexit. This means getting the so-called Great Repeal Bill through parliament with a small working majority courtesy of the “undertakers” of the DUP is a journey fraught with jagged cliff edges; not to mention the final parliamentary vote itself. Remember, any major defeat for Theresa May, or her successor, could end up with Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street.

So how can the Brexit square be circled?

Thus far, there has been an emphasis from both the Conservatives and Labour on boosting jobs. A “jobs first” Brexit is the Labour leader's mantra. Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, and Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, have echoed the sentiment. Also, both Labour and the Tories have spoken of tariff-free trade with our European neighbours with maximum access to the single market. Moreover, the DUP itself has spoken against a hard Brexit because it does not want a hard border with the Irish Republic.

Nicola Sturgeon, meantime, has argued for continued membership of the single market, her government’s options paper sets out a number of variations, including ones involving membership of the European Free Trade Association[EFTA].

This throws up the so-called Norway option and even the Swiss option. While the First Minister spoke in the context of Scotland, such a route forward could now be one being considered for the UK as a whole.

In the end, it might come down to what is meant by "membership" and what is meant by "maximum access". Switzerland while a member of EFTA is not a member of the European Economic Area, which provides for the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital within the European internal market. Instead, it has a myriad of bilateral agreements with the EU.

The Europhile former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has spoken about the “off-the-shelf” EFTA option, which would keep Britain plugged into the single market but without having power over its rules; a kind of associate status.

The Eurosceptic MEP Daniel Hannan also spoke favourably of EFTA membership, saying what Britain wanted all along was a common market not a common government. “When I look at Switzerland which controls its own trade, agriculture, fisheries and home affairs, they’re doing all right.”

So in the end it could come down to semantics and different people’s perceptions of a hard/medium/soft Brexit; with a merger perhaps somewhere in the middle, so Leavers and Remainers can each plant their flag on the summit and claim victory.

Brussels is, after all, the home of Belgian fudge.