JUST when you thought it was safe to go into a General Election campaign ... Brexit is back. For a few brief days it seemed that some issues might actually get a hearing: social care, public services, money trees etc ... however, Labour and the Liberal Democrats couldn’t resist devoting the first day of the campaign to Brexit, like a dog returning to its sick.

OK: Europe was always going to dominate, but why do all the parties seem to lose any sense of reality as soon as they talk about it?

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Jeremy Corbyn made a valiant effort yesterday to pretend that Brexit was really about the NHS. Malign forces are gathering in Mordor, in the shape of American pharmaceutical companies, waiting for their Dark Lord Trump to gobble up the NHS and force costly medicines down our throats.

The Labour leader then came out with a claim that Brexit would cost the NHS £500 million extra per week in higher medicine costs. This was remarkable for being even dafter than the £350m on the side of Boris Johnsons’s Big Red Bus.

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It is based on a remark – subsequently retracted by Donald Trump – that “everything would be on the table” in trade talks with the UK. The POTUS was talking even more nonsense than usual because there really is no prospect of a public service like the NHS being anywhere near the table in trade talks. And that’s not me talking, but the Nuffield Trust, the leading NHS think tank.

Nor is there a serious risk of American pharmaceutical companies forcing up the cost of medicines through open competition, as Mr Corbyn claims. The reason, according to the Nuffield, is because competitive tendering for drug prices has been going on for decades, and the NHS does very well out of it. As the biggest health-care purchaser on the planet, it gets the best prices from Big Pharma.

The purpose of all this was to divert attention from Labour’s actual policy on Brexit, which is not to have any policy at all. “We recognise why people voted Leave; we recognise why people voted Remain,” said Labour’s Employment spokeswoman, Laura Pidcock, yesterday. “We are not the party of either: we are the party of both.”

There’s a philosophical debate to be had on whether it is possible to be both for and against Brexit. But in politics it’s usually called “not having a clue”. Labour intends to negotiate a new Brexit deal in three months, and then put that to a referendum in another three months. Thus will Britain be in (or out) of the EU by next June.

Let’s set aside, for the moment, the fact that Brussels says it is not prepared to reopen the Withdrawal Deal, for a third time, or extend Article 50, for a fourth time. Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer, says the European Union will accept Labour terms because they’ll be all about “staying in the customs union and in regulatory alignment with the single market”.

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In other words, this means rejoining the EU in all but name, as the head of Labour for a People’s Vote, Mike Buckley, admitted on LBC yesterday. Leave voters might have a view about holding a Remain v Remain referendum.

Don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t object if Britain went down this route. But it would mean restoring free movement, joining the European Economic Area (with Norway), continuing to pay into the EU budget (without having any say on its policies), accepting EU trade negotiations and remaining under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

But these are things that Labour have repeatedly said they do not want. And after negotiating this spanking new deal Mr Starmer says he would then campaign against it. Those of us with long memories recall Labour’s “longest suicide note” of 1983. This is the shortest.

Labour’s confusion over Brexit rather disguises the fact that the Tories are also split. Mr Johnson surprised MPs by delivering a new Brexit deal, with the Irish backstop moved to the Irish Sea. But the UK would still remain under Brussels rule during the transition period and could still find itself beholden the ECJ in the subsequent trade deal.

He has gone the long way round Brexit and found himself back where he started. Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party are not going to let him forget that 90 per cent of the new Brexit deal is actually the old Theresa May Brexit Deal.

Tory hard-liners agree, but they are keeping quiet because they realise that, if they don’t back Mr Johnson’s Brexit, they probably won’t get any Brexit at all. Their hopes are pinned now on forcing a World Trade Organisation trade deal after the transition period and delivering hard Brexit by stealth.

As for the voters, I suspect many of them just want to see the whole Brexit madness stopped. Which to be fair is what the Liberal Democrats are proposing: to revoke Article 50. But there is one slight problem with this: the UK voted to leave the EU.

It might very well do so again in a repeat referendum. But the Liberal Democrat “PM-in-waiting”, Jo Swinson, says she’d just ignore that. It’s like the head girl telling everyone that they can’t have fizzy drinks. She knows what’s good for us.

As for the SNP, well it wants a referendum on Brexit too, though it’s not entirely clear whether it would consider the result binding. After all, it is calling for a new referendum on Scottish independence to keep us in the EU.

But has the SNP thought this through? By agreeing a confirmatory vote on the new Brexit deal, does that not also mean agreeing, in principle, to a confirmatory vote on any deal after indyref2?

Nicola Sturgeon insists that the two are “of course” completely different. But unless she wants to crash out of the UK, there’ll have to be a deal with London. No one can know the nature of that deal – on currency, debt, borders, customs and regulatory alignment – until after it has been negotiated.

So, the SNP position begins to look like not one, but three referendums. At which point the Scottish voters will surely make their excuses and leave.