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ANALYSIS: May's Brexit flip-flop does little to instil confidence

Theresa May with Leo Varadkar inside 10 Downing Street earlier this week. Picture by Philip Toscano/PA Wire

THE EU referendum campaign was rife with scaremongering and hyperbole.

Remember how the Remain side deployed 'Project Fear', while the Brexiteers used fanciful figures and empty promises about redirecting funds to the ailing NHS?

Sometimes it's possible to give both the benefit of the doubt – after all, there was an awful lot at stake and emotions ran high as decision day approached.

It was in such a context, with less than 48 hours before the UK went to the polls, that the then pro-Remain home secretary Theresa May visited Northern Ireland.

During a visit to Co Down, she was adamant about Brexit's implications for trade and movement.

She warned of border controls and the negative impact on people's everyday lives – points that clearly resonated with many in the north, who two days later voted convincingly to remain part of the EU.

The comments were in contrast to the message from the then Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, who argued that movement across the border would be unaffected by the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

But within weeks of the referendum, with the Eurosceptic Ms Villiers gone and Mrs May firmly ensconced in Downing Street following David Cameron's rapid departure, the tone changed.

No longer was the prime minister predicting border checks and restrictions on movement but instead it was "no return to the borders of the past" and other such platitudes.

Her letter in March this year triggering Article 50 reiterated her new-found vision of a "seamless, frictionless border".

Arguably, she was correct in her pre-referendum assertion about a hard border and the Conservative leader is also right to desire a free-flowing frontier across the island, but the flip-flopping and lack of consistency does not instil confidence in Mrs May and her ability to oversee Britain's successful departure from Europe.

It is acceptable for people to change their minds – even prime ministers – but to do so in a manner which seeks to overlook what was previously said in earnest is disingenuous and merely sends a message of political expediency.

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