ANALYSIS: A worthwhile exercise from Theresa May but don't expect anything ground-breaking
AT the outset it's important to acknowledge that Theresa May's invitation to readers of The Irish News to quiz her directly on Brexit is a welcome move.
It's something none of her predecessors has ever attempted and given nationalism's muted voice at Westminster, it provides a useful forum from which to gauge public opinion.
Northern Ireland is clearly the region that stands to suffer most from Brexit – a policy with which the majority of its electorate do not agree – and to ignore the anxieties and unease of a significant block of the population would be ill-advised.
The prime minister's supporters will no doubt say the exercise is proof positive that the Tory leader is aware of these concerns and fully understands how people are troubled by the uncertainty surrounding Brexit.
Her detractors, meanwhile, will dismiss this unprecedented Q&A as nothing more than a public relations stunt, where the prime minister's professed sympathy is merely a veneer. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between.
It would have been naive to think that Mrs May would make commitments in her responses to readers' questions that she has not made elsewhere. Her Downing Street advisers know only too well that her answers will be scrutinised not only here in the north, but also in Dublin, London and potentially across the EU, so therefore her language will inevitably be cautious, focussing on rhetoric and aspiration rather than pledges and hard promises.
We learn nothing especially new from Mrs May's responses, though she does restate her intention to avoid a hard border and address Northern Ireland's "special circumstances". However, like the ambiguous language that has characterised recent agreements between the UK and EU, her answers avoid specific solutions to what is proving to be a very complex, multi-faceted conundrum.
Arguably, the reason the prime minister hasn't spelt out how she plans to answer the many difficult questions thrown up by Brexit, is simply that she and her government are unable to.