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Editorial: Survey reflects protocol realities

IT has always been the case that rhetoric around the Northern Ireland Protocol has not reflected lived experience on the ground.

The protocol is a by-product of the UK's disastrous decision to push for a hard Brexit, a solution to recognise the special circumstances of Northern Ireland and avoid the practical problems of a new land border.

As a compromise, it was never going to fully satisfy all parties and posed particular challenges for unionists with the requirement of checks on goods at the Irish Sea.

But equally, a door was opened to new opportunities through unfettered access to both UK and EU markets which hold out the potential to transform the local economy.

A new opinion poll conducted by LucidTalk on behalf of Queen's University Belfast reflects this complex reality.

It found that a majority of respondents now view the protocol as being appropriate for managing the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland – with the figure rising from 47 to 55 per cent over the last year.

Almost two-thirds agreed it offers unique opportunities which could benefit the region, with more than half seeing the current impact as positive.

Of course there are issues around implementation of the protocol and the survey reflects that too.

More than half of respondents had concerns about the end of grace periods protecting traders from the full weight of border checks.

A majority also saw the protocol as threatening political stability, with 46 per cent believing it has a negative impact on Northern Ireland's place in the UK.

However, almost two-thirds of respondents would prefer to see the UK and EU reach agreement to resolve difficulties rather than the UK taking unilateral action.

This has come in the form of legislation being rushed through parliament to give Downing Street the power to tear up the protocol.

Unsurprisingly, the survey recorded high levels of mistrust in the British government, which first broke promises to unionists before reneging on its agreement with the EU.

For the DUP's part, it would be wise to uncouple itself from Boris Johnson's reckless course.

Rather than turn back the clock as some appear to have hoped, abandoning the EU threatens to accelerate the break-up of the union, as evidenced by fresh proposals yesterday for an independence referendum in Scotland.

The protocol remains the only solution to the Brexit problem in this part of Ireland and renewed negotiations, in a spirit of good faith, will be the only way to ensure it works for the benefit of all.

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