Deputy party leader Stephen Farry told an audience at the Dublin-based Institute of International and European Affairs that he does not foresee controversial post-Brexit arrangements becoming the defining issue in the upcoming ballot.
But Mr Farry, who stepped in at the last minute at the event to replace party leader Naomi Long, warned current divisions in Northern Ireland may prevent the forming of an Executive following the election in May.
The North Down MP, who offered an overview of his party’s post-Brexit policies, said: “The Protocol will be part of the wider election for sure and some people are determined to make it a referendum on the Protocol.”
Responding to a question from the PA news agency, Mr Farry referred to recent polling by the University of Liverpool which he said showed the health system in Northern Ireland is “by far the most significant” issue for voters.
He said the economy and education also outstrip the Protocol in voters’ minds.
“There is a danger that unionism is playing to its most extreme elements, in terms of the electorate, but that doesn’t reflect where the vast majority of people currently stand on the issue,” he told the webinar.
Mr Farry described his party as “Protocol pragmatists”, with a wish to turn the Protocol “from a solid line down the Irish Sea to a dotted line”.
He said he is not yet optimistic that the appointment of Foreign Secretary Liz Truss as the chief Brexit negotiator for the UK Government, following the resignation of Lord Frost, will prompt any major changes in policy.