ADMIT it. You no longer care about the latest Brexit theatrics. Boris Johnson's Brussels dash to get facemask-to-facemask with Ursula Van der Leyen leaves you cold. They’re just going through the motions.

Four and a half miserable years we've put up with this – longer than the Second World War. We hear the BBC's Europe Editor, Katya Adler, telling us night after night that she doesn't know what's going on. We know only too well what is going on: Brexit is a toss-up between bad deal and a worse deal.

This may be a rather facile reflection as we witness this slow-motion disaster. Tariffs, fish, Irish border, Kent becoming a toilet – these are all terribly important and mind-numbingly boring at the same time. You just want it over.

A deal might save doggy passports and tariffs on cheese. But a lot has been conceded already. Eighty per cent of the UK economy is services and not covered by any deal likely to emerge tomorrow or next week. There'll be border checks whatever happens. Brussels rules are not going away on state aid. Why, the Scottish Government tells us that EU competition rules will still prevent it saving the construction firm BiFab after we leave in January.

Could there have been a better way? Could this all have been over, done and dusted, four years ago if only the opposition politicians had accepted the result of the 2016 EU referendum? The left-wing Guardian columnist, Owen Jones, has provoked apoplexy amongst his pro-EU readers by claiming precisely this. “Hard Remainers,” he says, tried to reverse the 2016 vote instead of pushing for a softer Brexit, “now we're all paying the price."

Of course, the ones principally to blame for the Brexit imbroglio are successive Tory prime ministers since David Cameron. But I think Mr Jones has a point. And it wasn't just Labour and the Liberal Democrats who lost the plot. As I argued at the time, it was bizarre for Nicola Sturgeon to be demanding a repeat referendum, a People's Vote, on Brexit when she wouldn't dream of accepting a “think again” referendum on Scottish independence.

She made this clear when the former PM Sir John Major suggested precisely this last month. He said that Scottish voters should have the right to vote, not just on the principle of Scottish independence, but on the actual separation deal that is negotiated after it. Oh no, said the SNP – that would be an abuse of democracy. A vote's a vote... yet Ms Sturgeon was eager to march arm-in-arm with Alistair Campbell for a repeat People's Vote in London in March 2019. This raised nationalist eyebrows, since she was refusing to appear on Scottish independence marches back home.

A vote's a vote, said the Brexiters. But it was the wrong kind of vote, said Remainers. There were various unconvincing arguments offered to deny the validity of the Brexit referendum. People didn't know what they were voting for, did they? They can't be allowed to destroy the economy just because they hate foreigners. They were duped by the Russians and Cambridge Analytica. “The Great Brexit Robbery: how our democracy was hijacked”, shrieked the hyperventilating reporter, Carole Cadwalladr, in her infamous Observer article in May 2017.

This became the Great Brexit Conspiracy theory. American billionaires, we were told, had used Cambridge Analytica's sinister algorithms to pervert the Brexit referendum in the interests of, er, Vladimir Putin. #FBPE supporters on Twitter still believe this nonsense, even after it being dismissed by two Commons reports and an exhaustive investigation by the Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham.

The Brexit vote was not a Russian plot, and the chancers of Cambridge Analytica had nothing to do with it, said Ms Denham. The 2016 referendum was what it was: a people's vote to leave Brexit. Mr Jones is right that a more constructive approach by the left, one that accepted the validity of the referendum, might have avoided hard Brexit.

This isn't just the wisdom of hindsight. Many argued, myself included, that Britain could have remained broadly in the single market through the the European Economic Area and EFTA, of which we were already a member. This was called the Norway-plus option and was offered, off the peg, by Brussels in June 2016.

There were problems with it, not least the Irish border, but they were manageable. Brexiters would, and did, claim that it wasn't Brexit because Britain would still be subject to single market rules. But we still are. The EEA at least honoured Brexit by taking Britain out of the political institutions of Europe. The EEA was originally designed in 1995 to accommodate Norway, which had voted against the European Union. It provided trading continuity and a safe space for the UK to sort itself out.

If the opposition parties had united with Tory Remainers, Theresa May could have kept the UK in the single market. That, after all, is what she tried to do in her Withdrawal Deal which attempted, disingenuously, to use the Irish backstop as a means of keeping the entire UK, not just Northern Ireland, within the rules of the single market.

The opposition parties failed to agree on any of the soft Brexit options in 2019. They were more interested in trying to undermine a weak Tory Government. Intoxicated by hectic, late-night parliamentary victories that actually meant nothing. Seduced by the delusion that the Brexit vote could be reversed. All that did was infuriate Brexit voters, who then turned the 2019 General Election into their own People's Vote.

Is it worth going over all this again? Probably not. But as a second Scottish independence referendum looms on the horizon, there are lessons clearly to be learned from Brexit. The first being that referendums are rarely just about the issue on the ballot paper. Brexit was also about inequality, immigration, industrial decline.

Second, that it is hard for countries to leave voluntary unions, unless the parties involved are very clear about what leaving actually means. Third, that half a loaf is better than none. And finally: if you hold a referendum you'd bloody well better accept the result.

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