Northern Ireland news

'Slender lead' for united Ireland amid Brexit turmoil, poll finds

Lord Ashcroft said his Northern Ireland survey "finds the union on a knife-edge"
Brendan Hughes

MOST people in the north support a united Ireland amid the ongoing Brexit turmoil, a new poll suggests.

Irish reunification was backed by 51 per cent compared to 49 per cent for staying in the UK, according to the survey after excluding 'don't knows' and those who said they would not vote.

Of those surveyed 46 per cent said they would vote for a united Ireland if a border poll was called tomorrow, while 45 per cent would support Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK.

The over-65 age group was the only one with a clear majority for staying in the UK (55 per cent to 34 per cent).

Lord Ashcroft, a former Conservative Party deputy chairman who conducted the survey, said it "finds the union on a knife-edge".

He said the "slender lead" for a united Ireland was in effect a "statistical tie and well within the margin of error", and could reflect the "uncertainty and anxiety surrounding Brexit".

A majority (60 per cent) favoured a Brexit deal with the Irish backstop rather than leaving the EU without a deal. This was also preferred by 96 per cent of nationalists, but for unionists 77 per cent favoured a no-deal Brexit.

The poll also asked people to rate political leaders in Ireland and Britain out of 100 based on how positive they feel about them.

Alliance leader Naomi Long topped the list with a rating of 46, followed by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (44) and British prime minister Boris Johnson (40). SDLP leader Colum Eastwood scored 37 and DUP leader Arlene Foster had a rating of 32.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage scored 31, while Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O'Neill, UUP leader Robin Swann and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn all finished bottom of the list with 30.

The poll surveyed online 1,542 adults in Northern Ireland between August 30 and September 2, with results weighted to be representative of all adults in the north.

In a blog post, Lord Ashcroft said that after his polling in Scotland last month found a small lead for independence, the "slender lead for Irish unification" is "equally gloomy news for unionists".

"Such a result might also reflect the uncertainty and anxiety surrounding Brexit, the Irish border and its potential effect on life in the province, which could recede when the outcome is settled," he said.

"Be that as it may, the result underlines what could be at stake in the quest for a workable Brexit solution on the island of Ireland."

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