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Opinion Panel poll underlines concerns of impact of Northern Ireland Protocol

There are wide concerns and polarised views among voters in Northern Ireland about the political impact of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, a new opinion poll conducted by Lucid Talk on behalf of Queen’s University has revealed.

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Conducted from 24-28 March 2021, prior to the recent civil unrest, the poll also showed low levels of trust in political and official actors to manage Northern Ireland’s (NI) interests with respect to the Protocol.

From a weighted sample of over 2,100 respondents, the opinion Panel poll was conducted for researchers at Queen’s University Belfast 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".

A series of regular surveys has been commissioned from LucidTalk to ‘temperature test’ voter attitudes on issues relating to Brexit, the Protocol, and their implications for Northern Ireland. Using the LucidTalk online Northern Ireland Opinion Panel, the results are weighted to be representative of the adult population of Northern Ireland and the margin of error is +/- 2-3%.

Survey participants were asked six sets of questions covering attitudes towards Brexit and the Protocol, assessments of the impact of the Protocol, degrees of concern about related matters, and trust in different actors to manage it. The survey also asked participants how they would like their MLAs to vote in the ‘democratic consent vote’ on the Protocol that will be held by the NI Assembly at the end of 2024.

While the majority of respondents (57%) do not think that Brexit is ‘a good thing’ for the UK as whole, views are evenly split over whether the Protocol is overall good for Northern Ireland (43% agree v. 44% disagree). Opinions are also divided on whether the Protocol offers the appropriate means for managing the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland (42% disagree v. 46% agree), although a clear majority of poll participants (65%) agree that particular arrangements for Northern Ireland are necessary to manage Brexit.

Many respondents express concerns about the current impact of Brexit and the Protocol. Even though the survey was conducted prior to the violent incidents during Easter week, the greatest cause for concern among all respondents is the political stability of Northern Ireland.

The poll also shows strongly held concerns about Northern Ireland’s place vis-à-vis Great Britain, including the extent of the increased formalities, checks and controls on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. A majority of respondents (57%) say that they would like to see the UK agreeing to regulatory alignment with the EU to address this.

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). When asked about how they would like their elected representatives to vote in this, the division is very close: 47% in favour and 42% against.

Principal Investigator of the project, Professor David Phinnemore from the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics at Queen’s, said: “This poll shows us that the Protocol is a live and contested issue among voters as well as political parties in Northern Ireland. The political debate in Northern Ireland in the lead-up to the Assembly elections in May next year could very well centre upon the Protocol. The results of this poll suggest that the debate would be both impassioned and polarised.”

One problem revealed by the survey is the degree to which NI voters distrust those charged with managing the effects of the Protocol in Northern Ireland. Only 5% or respondents have any trust in the UK government on this matter, only 15% trust the NI Executive and 19% trust the UK-EU Joint Committee. The only actors enjoying the trust of a majority of respondents (62%) in handling the Protocol are NI business representatives.

Co-investigator, Professor Katy Hayward, a Senior Fellow of the UK in a Changing Europe and from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s, commented: “Only 7% of those polled strongly agree that reliable information on the Protocol is available. As long as there is a lack of detail and clarity surrounding the final shape of the Protocol, anxiety about its longer-term impact will inevitably grow. When you add this to people’s lack of trust in institutions, politicians and officials on this issue, we can see why the sense of uncertainty in Northern Ireland at the moment is quite so acute.”

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

This project website will be launched on Wednesday 21 April. It contains a Protocol Monitor that links into the text of the Protocol plus related decisions and applicable law. It also monitors the activities of the UK-EU Joint Committee and other bodies involved in the implementation of the Protocol. In addition, the website provides academic analysis arising from the project, as well as links to other academic and think-tank work on the Protocol. The project can be followed on Twitter via @PostBrexitGovNI

ENDS…

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