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Theresa May's bewildering journey

Very few people would question either the strength of Theresa May's commitment to her role as British prime minister or the sense of duty she has displayed since entering Downing Street in the most difficult of circumstances back in 2016.

What remains in doubt are her negotiating skills, her ability to remain resolute under the kind of pressures which always accompany her job and at a most basic level her political judgment.

Mrs May's trip to Belfast yesterday was designed to offer reassurance to both business leaders and the general public about her `unshakeable' determination to deliver a Brexit outcome that avoids a hard border in Ireland.

However, it was inevitable that the spotlight would be on the way in which the positions she has taken up during previous visits to the same city have been subject to such sweeping changes.

When Mrs May came to Belfast as the UK's home secretary on the eve of the 2016 EU referendum, she was a firm supporter of the Remain campaign and said it was `inconceivable' that border arrangements in Ireland would be left unchanged by a Leave vote.

Only a matter of weeks later, she made the same journey as a newly elected premier who was now pledged to complete a Brexit deal but unable to clarify the Irish implications.

Barely two months ago, she was back in Belfast to tell us that the withdrawal scheme - crucially including a border backstop provision - which she had just signed off with the leaders of the other 27 EU states, was not just the best but the only possible solution to the Brexit dilemma.

By yesterday, her latest stance was that the withdrawal agreement actually needed to be reopened, with all aspects of the backstop issue specifically placed back on the table, even though the Brexit deadline is looming on March 29.

Everyone will be acutely aware of the repeated setbacks Mrs May has suffered at Westminster, and the parliamentary arithmetic which has effectively left her survival in the hands of the ten DUP MPs.

At the same time, she must accept that the DUP is not merely in a minority in the House of Commons but also in the suspended Stormont Assembly and cannot be allowed to dictate Brexit policies which are contrary to the clearly expressed views of the Northern Ireland electorate.

Among the very few lifelines available to Mrs May are another UK general election or a second EU referendum, both of which she insists that she has ruled out.

Her huge difficulty is that, in the course of her bewildering series of u-turns, her credibility has slowly but surely evaporated and she has been left clinging to power by a thread.

If she cannot obtain a fresh mandate through either an election or a referendum, she must know that it her final departure from office is unlikely to be delayed much longer.

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