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Brexit is changing the political landscape

Eight months on from the EU referendum and Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon has taken a step which could potentially lead to the break-up of the UK.

The SNP leader yesterday made life much more difficult for Theresa May by announcing she was seeking to hold a second Scottish independence referendum as early as autumn next year.

There are a few stages to get through before another poll can be confirmed but it is difficult to see how the British government could refuse a request which is approved by the majority of MSPs, as seems likely.

An independence vote in late 2018 or early 2019 would present a nightmare scenario for Mrs May at a crucial juncture in Brexit negotiations.

She has repeatedly said she does not want her hands tied in talks with the EU but she will know that insisting on a hard Brexit would put the Union at risk.

The British government will point to the Scottish referendum in 2014, which saw a decisive majority against independence.

That seemed to settle the matter but of course much has changed since then.

While England and Wales voted to leave the EU, both Scotland and Northern Ireland were firmly in favour of remaining.

The shifting political landscape has seen also Irish unity becoming more of an issue with Sinn Féin stepping up calls for a border poll.

Dublin foreign affairs minister Charlie Flanagan said such calls were premature but there is no doubt that the prospect of a hard Brexit has altered the dynamic on the island.

It is against this backdrop that Taoiseach Enda Kenny announced a landmark referendum on allowing Irish citizens living outside the Republic, including in the north, to vote in presidential elections.

Although there may be a number of legal and practical issues in terms of voter registration and the process of casting a vote, this has to be regarded as a welcome and positive development.

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