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Editorial: DUP once again left saying 'no' even though most unionists back the Windsor Framework

As MPs prepare to back the Stormont brake in a vote regarded as a verdict on the Windsor Framework itself, the findings of the latest opinion poll conducted by this newspaper with the University of Liverpool-Institute of Irish Studies provide some useful context.

The data shows that outright opposition to the refined NI Protocol deal is not as strong as the DUP would lead one to believe.

According to the poll, just 15.7 per cent of unionists are firmly against the Framework, with three times as many (45.8 per cent) supportive and 38.5 per cent who could be described as undecided.

Nationalist voters are in fact more opposed to the deal, with 19.2 per cent against it. This may reflect a general disenchantment with the whole Brexit project – a fantasy inextricably linked with the DUP and fellow travellers such as Boris Johnson and the ERG – more than any particular verdict on the Windsor Framework itself. Meanwhile, just 9.2 per cent of the 'neither unionist nor nationalist' group oppose the Framework.

The poll findings offer further evidence that the DUP has misjudged its approach to the deal.

Although Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and his fellow MPs could plausibly have abstained, arguing that they were waiting for the DUP's eight-member panel to make up its mind on the Framework, he has said they will vote against the brake.

This is another misstep, and they will be firmly in the minority. Even the European Research Group of Conservative backbenchers, a diminished force of around 30 MPs these days, hasn't committed itself to voting against the government. The ERG's so-called 'star chamber' of legal experts has come up with a long list of criticisms of the Framework but the group doesn't appear to have the stomach for a full-scale rebellion against the prime minister. Politics at Westminster, if not for the DUP, has moved on.

Mr Sunak clearly wants to leave the years of wrangling over Brexit behind him and is intent on building a new relationship with Europe; for its part, EU ministers meeting in Brussels on Tuesday have already given their approval to the Framework.

This leaves the DUP once again saying 'no', and once again failing to articulate any sort of considered alternative.

As our opinion poll found, the majority of voters still believe the Good Friday Agreement structures are the best basis for governing Northern Ireland. The only logical outcome is for the DUP to return to power-sharing at Stormont and ends its nonsensical boycott as soon as possible.

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