Irish Sea border opposed by a growing number of people in NI – despite accepting it has benefits, poll finds

A growing number of people in Northern Ireland believe that the NI Protocol is damaging – despite a growing belief that it offers economic opportunities.

Wednesday, 30th June 2021, 8:50 am
The polling found growing opposition to the NI protocol. Photo: Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

A new poll for academics has found that views on the protocol – which creates the Irish Sea border – are now entrenched, with scant evidence of public opinion changing.

The polling results are also difficult to interpret, with some conflicting answers such as 70% of ten respondents claiming a ‘good understanding’ of the protocol, despite only 40% saying that reliable information on the subject is available.

The polling by LucidTalk is the second in three months for a three-year project in which Queen’s University Belfast is analysing sentiment on the fallout from Brexit in Northern Ireland.

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When asked whether the protocol “provides appropriate means for managing the effects of Brexit on Northern Ireland”, opinion is evenly split – 47% agree and 47% disagree (with those disagreeing up from 43% in March).

A similar four percentage point-increase against the protocol was found on the question of whether on balance the protocol is a good thing – 48% now disagree, while 43% agree.

That growing opposition to the protocol comes despite an increased belief (57%, up from 50%) that it provides unique benefits to Northern Ireland which could give it an advantage over the rest of the UK, and despite a belief by 67% of respondents that Northern Ireland required unique arrangements to manage Brexit.

Consistent with the finding of growing opposition to the protocol, the research found that there has been an increase in support for MLAs voting down the core provisions of the protocol when they get the first opportunity in 2024.

In March, 42% of people said they wanted MLAs to vote against articles 5-10 of the protocol; now 45% want them to do so. But a majority (46%, down from 47%) still wants MLAs to vote in favour of the protocol.

In a significant finding which reinforces the sense that the protocol will dominate next May’s Assembly election, the academics found “a high level of determination among respondents to use their votes in the next NI Assembly election to vote for MLAs who share their view on the Protocol; 41% are willing to vote for different candidates to the ones they voted for in 2017 to ensure they vote for candidates who will vote in accordance with their view on the protocol.

“The willingness is stronger (29%) among opponents of the Protocol compared to those if supportive of it (12%).”

The DUP was the most distrusted party on Brexit, with almost four in five voters distrusting it.

The research also found that 38% of people believe Irish Sea border checks should be moved to the Irish land border, while 51% disagree.

The academics behind the survey, led by Professors David Phinnemore and Katy Hayward, said that “the consistency in opinions on Brexit and the protocol from the first of our temperature testing polls in March and this one in June is quite remarkable. There has been negligible (<2%) movement in the results from some of the core questions.”

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