Northern Ireland news

Poll finds strong support for negotiated resolution to protocol impasse

A new opinion poll shows strong cross-community support for a negotiated resolution to concerns around the protocol
John Manley

AN overwhelming majority in the north believe negotiations between the UK and EU are the best way to resolve tensions around the protocol, according to a new survey.

The latest Institute of Irish Studies-University of Liverpool/The Irish News opinion poll suggests people of all political hues back a negotiated resolution to the current impasse.

The poll results are published just days after the EU launched fresh legal action against the UK, escalating an issue that has led to a DUP boycott of the Stormont institutions and the suspension of power-sharing.

Last week, the British government's controversial Northern Ireland Protocol Bill cleared its third reading – the final stage in the House of Commons – by 267 votes to 195, and will now move to the House of Lords.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has welcomed the bill's progress but has still not agreed to restore the executive – or elect an assembly speaker.

Boris Johnson's successor in Downing Street is expected to support the legislation, which would give ministers power to ditch parts of the post-Brexit agreement, despite fresh warnings from the US that applying it will jeopardise a transatlantic trade deal.

In the latest survey, conducted between June 28 and July 10, fewer than one-in-five respondents disagreed that negotiations were the best course of action.

Only 13.8 per cent of DUP voters and 4.7 per cent of Ulster Unionist voters were against greater diplomatic engagement between London and Brussels to overcome the deadlock.

In all, 85.2 per cent of those surveyed either strongly agreed, agreed or neither agreed nor disagreed that the best way to resolve concerns was to get around the table.

The strongest backing for a negotiated settlement was among SDLP voters (41.6 per cent strongly agreed; 42.9 per cent agreed) and Alliance supporters (33.9 per cent strongly agreed; 37.1 per cent agreed).

Two-thirds of Sinn Féin supporters (66.3 per cent) agreed that negotiations offered the best opportunity to resolve the issue.

Even among DUP voters and supporters of the hardline TUV there was a belief that negotiations are the best approach, with 57.8 per cent of the former and 55.2 of the latter agreeing in some form.

Elsewhere, the survey found that more than three-quarters of respondents (75.4 per cent) believe the issues around the protocol are complex and difficult to understand.

It also highlighted how support for the EU's claim that renegotiating the protocol would lead to prolonged legal uncertainty and instability splits strongly along identity lines, with nationalist support at 71.1 per cent, unionists at 28.5 per cent and neithers firmly in the middle on 45.7 per cent.

However, Professor Peter Shirlow of the University of Liverpool said the results pointed to a degree of consensus rather than division.

"What is constantly found within these surveys and confirmed yet again is high level inter-community support for negotiations between the EU and UK as the best way to solve tensions within the protocol," he said.

"It is evident that the electorate is concerned by the impacts of the protocol and the lack of vision around solution-seeking. As evidenced, this is not an electorate at loggerheads between unionism and nationalism but one that shares the same hope for resolution."

The Institute of Irish Studies director said the public understood the value of negotiation as an alternative to stand-off.

"Most are cognisant of how negotiation solved more difficult issues such as violence and power-sharing via the Good Friday Agreement," he said.

"It is evident that an approach that works across communities for resolution is more appreciated than firm stances, saying no and advancing a politics of belligerence."