Rebecca Black, PA
People in the North are “highly exercised” and “evenly split” over the Northern Ireland Protocol, an opinion poll has indicated.
The Protocol, which introduces fresh checks on goods arriving into the region from Britain following the UK’s departure from the EU, sharply divides opinions at Stormont, with unionists strongly opposed to it.
Loyalists have been holding demonstrations against the Protocol across Northern Ireland in recent months while a number of legal challenges have been lodged against it.
A new opinion poll conducted by LucidTalk for a team of researchers at Queen’s University Belfast, has found that a majority of people in the North have concerns about the current impact of the Protocol.
However it also finds that recent protests and political debate since April have “not led to any significant growth in the proportion of voters objecting to it”, suggesting that positions on the Protocol are “already quite well entrenched”.
The majority of the 1,500 respondents (67 per cent) said they believe that Northern Ireland does need “particular arrangements” for managing the impact of Brexit, but they are divided on the Protocol itself.
When asked whether the Protocol is appropriate for the North, 47 per cent agree that it is, but 47 per cent disagree.
Meanwhile, 43 per cent think that the Protocol is, on balance, good for Northern Ireland, whereas 48 per cent think that it isn’t, and 56 per cent agree that the Protocol provides Northern Ireland with a unique set of post-Brexit economic opportunities.
The research also finds that more people are concerned about the cost of certain products (69 per cent) than the choice of products for consumers (61 per cent) or the existence of checks and controls on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain (58 per cent).
A majority of respondents (57 per cent) say that they would like to see the UK agreeing to regulatory alignment with the EU to address this.
Only a minority (38 per cent) said that they would like to see such checks and controls moved from ports and airports in Northern Ireland to the Border.
Looking ahead to the next Assembly elections, due to take place next May, 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, said people 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,” she said.
The findings showed that the DUP is distrusted by eight out of 10 voters, while Sinn Féin, is distrusted by six out of 10 respondents. Alliance, the SDLP and the UUP are distrusted by around four in 10 respondents.
Principal investigator of the project, Professor David Phinnemore, from Queen’s University Belfast, said new questions were asked in the survey, the second of two conducted.
“The plurality of respondents believe a greater role should be given to Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement’s north-south and east-west bodies vis-a-vis the Protocol,” he said.
“And over two-thirds agreed that the UK’s Lord Frost and European Commissioner Maros Sefcovic should regularly give evidence to a committee in the NI Assembly about their work overseeing the Protocol.
“In that sense, Sefcovic’s appearance in Stormont on Monday is a step in the right direction.”