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Opinion Panel poll finds voters are evenly split over the Northern Ireland Protocol

The LucidTalk poll, conducted for a team of researchers at Queen’s University Belfast has revealed that Northern Ireland voters are evenly split over the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.

Belfast Landscape

From a weighted sample of 1500 respondents, the Opinion Panel poll reveals that the majority share concerns about the current impact of the Protocol. This is the second poll of its type in three months as part of a three-year (2021-2023) ESRC-funded research project entitled "Governance for 'a place between’: the Multilevel Dynamics of Implementing the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland".

It reveals that, although people’s concerns are still considerable, the protests and political debate over the Protocol since April have not led to any significant growth in the proportion of voters objecting to it. This suggests that positions on the Protocol are already quite well entrenched.

While the majority of respondents (67%) agree that Northern Ireland does need ‘particular arrangements’ for managing the impact of Brexit, they are divided on the Protocol itself. When asked whether the Protocol is appropriate for Northern Ireland, 47% agree that it is but 47% disagree. Similarly, 43% think that the Protocol is, on balance, good for Northern Ireland, whereas 48% think that it isn’t. Nevertheless, 56% agree that the Protocol provides Northern Ireland with a unique set of post-Brexit economic opportunities. 

The survey results indicate a clear majority of respondents being concerned or very concerned about the effects of Brexit and/or the Protocol on Northern Ireland, based on their current experience. More people are concerned about the cost of certain products (69%) than the choice of products for consumers (61%) or the existence of checks and controls on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain (58%). A majority of respondents (57%) say that they would like to see the UK agreeing to regulatory alignment with the EU to address this. Only a minority (38%) said that they would like to see such checks and controls moved from ports and airports in Northern Ireland to the Irish land border.

There is 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. Three-quarters of respondents say that a candidate’s position on the Protocol will be relevant when choosing how to cast their vote.

Co-investigator on the project, Professor Katy Hayward, from Queen’s University Belfast and a Senior Fellow of the UK in a Changing Europe, noted: “People in NI are highly exercised by the Protocol, both for and against – and in equal proportions. The political tensions are compounded by the low levels of trust in the political parties when it comes to the Protocol, and by the fact that the Protocol is likely to feature heavily in the next Assembly election.”

On the topic of the Protocol, the findings showed that the DUP is distrusted by 8 out of 10 voters, while Sinn Féin, is distrusted by 6 out of 10 respondents. Alliance, the SDLP and the UUP are distrusted by around 4 in 10 respondents. Notably, 3 out of 10 poll respondents are still to make up their mind as to whether they trust the UUP or not on the topic.

Trust in parties over the Protocol is important because of the democratic consent vote that MLAs will have. At the end of 2024, the NI Assembly will vote on the continued application of Articles 5-10 of the Protocol (those relating mostly to the movement of goods). Most respondents (91%) have a view on how they wish MLAs to vote, and, again, this is evenly split: 46% in favour of the continued application of Articles 5-10 and 45% against.

More than 7 out of 10 remain concerned or very concerned about Northern Ireland’s voice being heard on the implementation of the Protocol (73%) and scrutiny of the UK-EU bodies taking decisions on its implementation (71%). This is exacerbated by the low levels of trust in those charged with managing the impact of the Protocol. 5% trust the UK government on the matter (86% distrust it), compared to 40% who trust the European Commission (although 48% distrust it).

Principal Investigator of the project, Professor David Phinnemore, from Queen’s University Belfast, said: “Bearing in mind concerns around democratic trust and scrutiny, we asked new questions about addressing these. The plurality of respondents believe a greater role should be given to Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement’s north-south and east-west bodies vis-à-vis the Protocol. And over two-thirds agreed that the UK’s Lord Frost and European Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič should regularly give evidence to a committee in the NI Assembly about their work overseeing the Protocol. In that sense, Šefčovič’s appearance in Stormont on Monday is a step in the right direction.”

A brief report on the findings of the poll, including some of the written comments submitted by respondents is available at: https://www.qub.ac.uk/sites/post-brexit-governance-ni/ProjectPublications/OpinionPolling/TestingTheTemperature2/

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