Ben Lowry: Poll shows that Britain was foolish to rule out even CCTV at the border last December

This week I was in London at two events, both of which unveiled poll findings about the future of the Union (the United Kingdom one).

Saturday, 26th May 2018, 9:33 am
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 8:51 am
Londons fear of even CCTV at the border, to which there is minimal public opposition, meant it made a foolish commitment last December of no infrastructure at all
Londons fear of even CCTV at the border, to which there is minimal public opposition, meant it made a foolish commitment last December of no infrastructure at all

The first, on Monday, was a seminar arranged by the think tank Policy Exchange to discuss the future of the UK, with speakers including Arlene Foster and Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader.

The second, at Victoria, was about the UK and the EU, and included a presentation by Professor John Garry of Queen’s University on attitudes in Northern Ireland to Brexit and to Irish unity.

The main attention was on the headline finding that only 21% of people here back Irish unity. Supporters of unification were quick to point out that 29% of voters were undecided or had no preference, so it was only 21 out of 71% who expressed a preference. Even so, that means that amid all the turmoil over Brexit, support for staying in the UK is still 70-30 in favour.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Dublin-EU is ruthlessly interpreting the UK's commitment around the border as meaning that there will be no regulatory-customs divergence with NI

Supporters of unity then pointed to the huge levels of poll support in Northern Ireland for a ‘soft’ Brexit, but that is potentially misleading. Plenty of people, even Brexit voters, will, when asked, say that they support a soft Brexit.

If you ask them: do you want to stay in the single market and customs union? they might well say yes. But if you ask: do you want to stay in the EU single market if it means leaving the UK single market (as it would if we stayed in the EU version and GB quit it) then the same respondents will not be so keen on a ‘soft’ Brexit.

But I think one of the most significant findings of the poll is the small opposition to cameras at the border. Only 20% of nationalists would find that “impossible to accept” and only 10% would support the vandalising them.

I thought Britain was weak to rule out CCTV at the border, which is of course legitimate at any border. If terrorists attack it, so be it.

But London’s fear of even CCTV meant it made a foolish commitment last December of no infrastructure at all, which Dublin-EU is ruthlessly interpreting as meaning that there can be no regulatory-customs divergence between NI and the Republic.

• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor