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Theresa May's comments on border poll cause a stir

A week after Theresa May was caught out peddling inaccurate information over legacy cases, she has once again created an unintentional stir in Northern Ireland over comments aimed at a Conservative audience.

As we approach the crucial point in discussions over the Irish border and potential arrangements on the movement of goods, it is apparent the prime minister is coming under intense pressure from the hardliners in her party.

The Brexiteers are determined to ensure Mrs May does not backtrack on a customs union or single market and seem to have little concern about the implications for the border in the event of a hard Brexit.

In recent weeks, Jacob Rees-Mogg has been especially vocal, warning the prime minister that she must show more 'firmness and tenacity.'

It is reported that in a particularly testy exchange during a briefing on Monday, Mr Rees-Mogg suggested that in a border poll, the people of Northern Ireland would vote to stay within the UK.

Mrs May is said to have retorted: ''I would not be as confident as you - that is not a risk I am prepared to take.''

This clash is being characterised as an example of the prime minister 'slapping down' the arch Brexiteer but, perhaps inadvertently, her comments have put the unity issue in the political spotlight.

The Good Friday Agreement states that the secretary of state can call a border poll at any time it appears likely there would be a majority wishing to be part of a united Ireland.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill said Mrs May's comments were effectively an admission that the necessary threshold for a vote had been met.

No one believes the prime minister or for that matter the secretary of state are preparing the way for an early referendum on the Union but it is rather surprising that Mrs May has even opened the door on the subject by casting doubt on the outcome.

As with her legacy remarks, she is clearly focused on a certain element within her party but she needs to realise her words have wider ramifications.

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