IT is said that time flies when you’re having fun – on that basis the five years since the deeply damaging Brexit vote have seemed like an eternity spent in damnation.

Those like myself, who strongly supported remaining in the EU in 2016, have found the period upsetting as we’ve uncoupled from our closest partners – in terms of both proximity and, most importantly, outlook – and receded into a navel-gazing, unrealistic and unachievable idea of what Britain should be.

What’s more disturbing is that the ideologues who supported Brexit aren’t happy either, continuing living in the same dystopian world where nefarious Europeans are out to get us and undermine our sovereignty. Those who for a variety of reasons were hoodwinked into voting Leave are also waking up unhappily to the fact that the gilded promises made in 2016 are essentially a series of bouncing cheques.

What’s accentuated this sense of despair has been the ham-fisted, incompetent way in which the Conservative Party has tried to turn the mess of its own creation around to its advantage, using convoluted post-event justification to explain how a wafer-thin vote for an undefined concept became a cast-iron mandate for the hardest Brexit.

In the catalogue of disasters that has been the entire Brexit process, the decision to ditch our membership of the Single Market and Customs Union stands out as one of the most costly and pointless. With our new identity as a buccaneering, free-trading nation, we’re celebrating this past week a trade deal with Australia which, apart from being on the other side of the world, has a population that’s less than 6% of the trading bloc that we’ve just left. The deal threatens our farmers by exposing them to competitors who don’t have to face the same standards of food production.

Closer to home, the heightened instability in Northern Ireland which has helped end the career of two DUP leaders in less than a few weeks and sparked levels of violence not seen for several years on the streets is solely down to the UK Government’s machinations. While the convoluted Northern Ireland protocol is the only remedy possible to overcome the contradictions posed by a hard Brexit, the lack of honesty employed by Boris Johnson in explaining its demands on businesses and consumers has heightened that sense of uncertainty.

READ MORE: Brexit’s big beasts: The five main characters and where they are five years on

Unfortunately for Scotland, the Single Market and Customs Union exit is just as calamitous, not only because it has already taken a wrecking ball to our seafood exports but also because it adds an even greater sense of strain to the national debate about independence.

In the European Movement we are studiously neutral on the issue, however we can recognise that the Brexit vote and its cult-like implementation have injected added acrimony and difficulties into the discussion.

The Scottish Government, to its credit, tried to lobby for continued membership of the Customs Union and Single Market as an acceptable compromise for a deeply divided UK. This strategy had a worthwhile pedigree, being the attitude that Norway took after a narrow vote against joining the European Union, where the government decided to sign up to some aspects of the European treaties as an acceptable halfway house.

Instead, the hardest Brexit now injects the prospect of the hardest of borders in between England and Scotland, should Scotland decide to leave the UK and rejoin the European project. It’s almost akin to a form of blackmail, threatening Scottish trade into England should Scotland make the “wrong” decision. I fail to understand how any Unionist could support a policy whose outcome might mean the hardest border if they lose the independence debate.

The good news however is that this can easily be fixed – just as the interpretation of the 2016 vote as one for a hard Brexit was a policy decision by the Conservative government, so another UK Government could just as easily rejoin the Customs Union and Single Market without any suggestion of breaching of what is the rather tenuous 2016 mandate.

The opposition parties at Westminster should summon up the courage to more forcefully challenge the Johnson administration’s disastrous Brexit policies and offer voters around the UK, but particularly in Scotland, a way to overcome the damage that has been inflicted on us over the past five years.

David Clarke is vice-chair of EMiS