I DON’T exactly know how many columns I devoted to Brexit in the run-up to the 2016 referendum and in the wake of the Leave result, but there were many. And I seem to recall that they were less than complimentary about a project I variously described as “punk Brexit”, “post-imperial delusion” and even a “clusterf**kmageddon”.

Latterly, I argued until my laptop was blue in the typeface that Britain should remain in the European single market if only to avoid being subjected to the bureaucratic red tape for which the EU is notorious.

This is politely called “friction” but is properly called protectionism. There was a majority for the “Norway” solution in the UK Parliament, as I pointed out repeatedly in 2018/19, but only if Labour, the SNP and Tory Remainers got their act together. They didn’t.

Nicola Sturgeon was more interested in leading an undemocratic campaign to reverse the 2016 referendum. Labour just played politics and Tory Remainers couldn’t agree on anything except how much they hated Boris Johnson. The supreme idiocy was the SNP taking the UK Government to the Supreme Court to stop Boris Johnson leaving without a trade deal, and then not voting for the trade deal when Brussels agreed it.

Why this trip down Brexit memory lane? Because every time I write something critical of Brussels’ conduct of the Northern Ireland protocol, I’m accused of being a Boris Brexiter, an anti-European xenophobe or some such nonsense.

Too many commentators seem to think that nothing has changed: that all they need is to brag about how right they were and repeat endlessly that Boris Johnson is a clown.

But Brexit isn’t going to go away. This Tory Government is not going to solve the Northern Ireland crisis, which is turning uglier by the day, by effectively rejoining the EU single market, which is the only solution Brussels will agree to and which the SNP’s External Affairs Secretary, Angus Robertson MP, called for last week. (Imagine his response if, five years after Indyref2, people were calling for Scotland to leave the EU and rejoin the UK single market).

It is heresy in liberal-left circles to suggest that the EU may not be playing with an entirely straight bat. (If you want to understand what the Brussels’ negotiating style is like, ask Yanis Varoufakis, the left-wing former finance minister of Greece). Consequently, the true nature of the Northern Ireland issue is obscured. It isn’t the protocol itself that is the main problem, but the way it is implemented.

Last week the boss of Marks & Spencer, Archie Norman, explained each M&S lorry has to complete eight documents amounting to 720 pages. If there is a mistake in one of them – if a page is filled in by black instead of blue ink – the lorry is stopped at the border and the food rots, which is an environmental abomination – 40 per cent of M&S trucks never make it through. Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? Should’ve known there’d be hassles sending stuff to Northern Ireland. But this is not Northern Ireland.

Mr Norman was talking about the obstruction of exports to the Republic of Ireland. Forget buying free-range chickens in Dublin, or organic sausages or, strangely, orchids – it’s too much trouble now to export them. These manifestly absurd restrictions have not yet been applied to Northern Ireland because we are still in the “grace period”.

Last month’s “sausage war” was just a preliminary skirmish. Both sides were feeling each other out, like armies before a big battle. Brussels finally put the ban on chilled meats on pause because they didn’t want to be blamed for any violence during the July marching season.

But come October and it won’t just be sausages and chilled meats disappearing from supermarkets. Those famous M&S adverts will be about Christmas foods that can no longer go on sale in part of the UK. This will make the new border with the rest of the UK dramatically visible.

And it’s why it is not just the Protocol but the Good Friday Agreement that’s now in danger. The new DUP leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, said so last week. More ominously, the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC), which represents the views of the paramilitary groups, has said it is withdrawing support from the GFA. The men of violence, who haven’t gone away, need look no further than the supermarket shelves for propaganda.

Militant Irish Nationalists haven’t gone away either. They see an opportunity to renew their campaign for the reunification of Ireland.

Many of my colleagues might say: right on, about time. The Brits should never have been in the North anyway. Partition is colonisation.

US President Joe Biden apparently thinks along these lines, and so it appears does the EU. But the US and the EU are deluding themselves if they think that the unionist community will give in gracefully and exit history.

The Northern Ireland Peace Process was based on mutual consent. This consent will now be withdrawn if there is a border with the UK – which is happening.

Seen through unionist eyes, the Northern Ireland Protocol is transparently being used to erect a hard border with the rest of the UK by impeding the transit of perishable and other goods across the Irish Sea. One of the many absurdities of the EU position is that 20% of all EU border checks now take place at the NI/UK border.

The Northern Ireland Protocol was a mess, partly because of Boris Johnson’s negligence but also because it was based on a fundamental contradiction. Namely, that a province of Britain could remain in the single market while remaining in the UK. Only by fudging the rules could this ever have worked.

It would have meant “honesty box” trade regulation, where reputable traders, like M&S, would be assumed to be observing the rules unless it were to be proved otherwise.

A grown-up solution would mean digitisation and an end to pointless paperwork. Goods destined for the North should only require the most rudimentary food standards checks. Yet a sandwich now has to have a separate vet certificate for every component: bread, butter, mayo, meat.

The benchmark should surely be the way goods cross the border between Scotland and England. Northern Ireland is as much a part of the UK as we are.

This requires flexibility on both sides. But Brussels’ solution, put again last week by Ursula von der Leyen, is that the UK should sign up to EU regulations indefinitely.

That is essentially Theresa May’s Irish backstop solution and it was decisively rejected in Westminster by some of the largest anti-government majorities in parliamentary history.

The bottom line is that Britain will never allow a border in a part of the sovereign UK. Brussels has refused to reopen negotiations and says it will continue to implement single market rules “to the letter”.

This impasse means there is now a trade war in Ireland, one of the most troubled regions of Europe. The casualties will be ordinary people on both sides of the Irish border.