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Opinion shifting over Brexit chaos

The UK's narrow vote to leave the EU in last June's referendum was among the most disastrous political and economic developments which Ireland, north and south, has faced for decades.

Events have subsequently progressed in an even more alarming direction with firm signs that the Conservative administration is dithering towards a so-called `hard Brexit', resulting in a British withdrawal from the single European market which would present further hugely negative consequences for all sections of Irish society.

However, over recent days, there have been at least some clear indications that the tide of public opinion across the water may finally be turning decisively away from the extremists in the Eurosceptic camp.

Firstly, the Brexit minister David Davis caused astonishment even among his allies by suggesting in the House of Commons that the UK could actually leave the EU but still be prepared to pay what would inevitably be enormous sums for access to the single market.

Brexit-backing Tories made it clear that any such move would cause outrage on their part while Remain campaigners seized on the comments as unmistakable evidence that the British cabinet's attempts to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty had descended into disarray.

There can be little doubt that the bizarre intervention of Mr Davis influenced the dramatic by-election victory for the staunchly pro-EU Lib Dem candidate Sarah Olney the following day in what was previously one of the safest Conservative seats in England, Richmond Park in a prosperous south London suburb.

It was an outcome which left prime minister Theresa May, who crucially does not have a personal mandate for her post, looking anxiously at her ability to retain her parliamentary authority and preparing with even more apprehension for her government's appeal opening at the UK's Supreme Court later today in a case which has already caused enormous damage to her Article 50 strategy.

The people who backed Brexit were plainly influenced by simplistic claims about securing lucrative trade deals and restricting immigration, as well as boosting spending on the health service, which have all been proved to be fallacies.

It should be remembered that it was Brexit enthusiasts like the prominent Tory MP Dominic Raab who, wrongly anticipating that they would lose last June, initially raised the prospect of a second referendum within a matter of years.

The next logical stage would be for the UK electorate to be given the full details of what a Brexit actually means and invited to give its considered verdict through either a general election or, if necessary, another plebiscite.

Voters in Northern Ireland and Scotland can be expected to again convincingly endorse EU membership and there is every reason to believe that, given the opportunity, a change of heart in England and Wales would also follow. The other Brexit options are entirely lacking in credibility.

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