Newswise — Support among voters in Northern Ireland for the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland remains steady, a new opinion poll conducted by Lucid Talk on behalf of Queen’s University Belfast, has revealed. But concerns about the effect it is having on political stability remain high, with people having strongly opposing views about it across a range of issues.

The polling was conducted from 7-10 October 2022 from a weighted sample of 1,499 respondents and is the sixth in a series of opinion panel polls conducted for researchers at Queen’s as part of a three-year Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), funded research project. This is the only polling in Northern Ireland dedicated to the topic of the Protocol which has been running at regular intervals since the Protocol entered into force.

A majority of respondents (54%) currently view the Protocol with grace periods as being appropriate for managing the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland but 34% disagree.

Most oppose unilateral action by the UK Government on the Protocol and three-quarters (71%) think that a UK-EU negotiated settlement to the outstanding issues is preferable. Under half (46%) are optimistic about the prospects for UK-EU talks (34% are not optimistic).

The most positive views of the Protocol in Northern Ireland are in relation to its economic consequences. 53% of respondents see the current impact of the Protocol on Northern Ireland’s economy as positive, and 63% think that the Protocol offers unique economic opportunities which could benefit Northern Ireland.

In contrast, the greatest concerns are for its political implications – with 62% seeing the Protocol as having a negative impact on political stability; 60% see a negative impact on British-Irish relations. The proportion thinking that the Protocol has a negative impact on Northern Ireland’s constitutional place in the United Kingdom is 49%; 47% think it negatively affects Northern Ireland’s position in the UK internal market.

Respondents to the poll were asked six sets of questions on attitudes towards Brexit and the Protocol.

Key findings include:

  • Just under a third (32%) of respondents have no concerns about the full operational scope and impact of the Protocol.
  • A majority (56%) do have concerns about the implications if the grace periods were to end and the Protocol were to be fully implemented. The issue of most concern is customs declarations on parcels; the issue of least concern is NI aligning to EU standards on goods.
  • There are mixed and generally low levels of trust in political actors and institutions when it comes to managing Northern Ireland’s interest with respect to the Protocol. The UK government is the most distrusted (84%), while voters are marginally more inclined to trust (47%) than distrust (43%) the European Commission/EU.
  • Most political parties (with the exception of the SDLP and Alliance) are distrusted more than they are trusted by most people when it comes to the Protocol. The DUP is distrusted by 67% and Sinn Féin by 51%.
  • There are clear patterns with respect to the majority view of voters in Northern Ireland when it comes to what should happen next with the Protocol. A majority of respondents (59%) do not think the UK Government is justified in taking unilateral action to suspend elements of the Protocol.
  • Respondents remain split on how their MLAs should vote in the 2024 ‘democratic consent’ vote with just over half of respondents (50%) favouring MLAs voting for the continued application of the Protocol and 41% want MLAs to vote against.
  • Most respondents wish to see the establishment of a Northern Ireland Executive with almost two third of respondents (65%) believing that the NI Executive should be ‘fully functioning regardless of what happens on the Protocol’, while 30% of respondents agreed with the proposition that the NI Executive should not be established until the Protocol is scrapped altogether, with two-thirds (66%) disagreeing.
  • The source of information on Brexit and the Protocol seen as reliable by the largest proportion of people in NI was political parties that they would consider voting for (76%), compared to 62% seeing official websites (e.g. government) as reliable and 53% seeing Radio/television news programmes as reliable sources of information, even though the latter was the source most frequently accessed by the most people (61%).

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: “For the first time we have evidence to show how important political parties are as sources of information on the Protocol. This is reflected in the polarised views of voters in NI on the subject. The fact that 3 out of 10 now say they want the Protocol scrapped before a NI Executive is established shows quite how influential the political parties are in NI, even though most are predominantly distrusted on the topic. This points to the difficulty for the UK and the EU in finding consensus in NI for accepting any agreement they might come to on the Protocol, and the subsequent obvious difficulties for power-sharing.”

For the full report and findings, please visit https://www.qub.ac.uk/sites/post-brexit-governance-ni/ProjectPublications/OpinionPolling/TestingtheTemperature6/ and follow on Twitter: @PostBrexitGovNI


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