Poll suggests unionists would be content with Irish Sea border after Brexit

Traffic crossing the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland in the village of Bridgend, Co Donegal
Brendan Hughes

MOST unionists would be content with having a 'sea border' between Northern Ireland and Britain after Brexit, a new poll suggests.

Almost 60 per cent of unionist voters who were surveyed agreed that people should be prepared to accept controls at the Irish Sea under a deal between the EU and UK.

This was also accepted by almost two-thirds of those who voted Leave in the EU referendum and 54 per cent of Protestants.

The DUP did not comment last night on the findings, but UUP leader Robin Swann dismissed the idea of having customs or other controls at the Irish Sea rather than the Irish border as a "complete non-starter".

"It would be a clear breach of the Belfast Agreement and a challenge to the sovereignty of the United Kingdom and its territorial integrity," he said.

"The constitutional status of Northern Ireland is not up for negotiation and we will not allow anyone to use the Brexit process to weaken the union."

At the DUP's annual conference on Saturday, party leader Arlene Foster also said it will not accept a sea border - and that she had written to the other 27 EU member states setting out this position.

The survey was designed by Queen's University Belfast professors John Coakley and John Garry, and the results were published on politics blog

Conducted by Ipsos MORI in September, it involved 1,015 interviews with members of the public, using a sample representative of the north's population.

People were asked if they agreed or disagreed with two statements relating to the UK leaving the European Union.

The first was: "People should be prepared to accept border controls between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, if this is agreed in the Brexit negotiations between the government and the EU."

Overall, 49 per cent agreed, 39 per cent disagreed and 12 per cent were unsure.

However, 64 per cent of Leave voters, 59 per cent of unionist party supporters and 54 per cent of Protestants said they agreed with the statement.

Support was lower among Remain voters (44 per cent said they agreed), nationalist party supporters (47 per cent) and Catholics (43 per cent).

The second statement was: "After the UK leaves the EU, there should be free movement across the Irish border, as at present, but border controls between the island of Ireland and Great Britain."

Overall, 64 per cent agreed, 25 per cent disagreed and 11 per cent were undecided.

Among both Leave voters and unionist party supporters 56 per cent agreed, while 60 per cent of Protestants agreed.

A total of 73 per cent of Remain voters agreed, as well as 75 per cent of nationalist party supporters and 68 per cent of Catholics.

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