Queen’s University Belfast: Public support for the Protocol is edging up in Northern Ireland, yet concerns persist

Support among voters in Northern Ireland for the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland is steadily increasing, a new opinion poll conducted by Lucid Talk on behalf of Queen’s University Belfast, has revealed. A majority of respondents (55%) now view the Protocol as being appropriate for managing the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland (in June 2021 the figure was 47%); 38% disagree.

Conducted from 3-6 June 2022, and from a weighted sample of 1,497 respondents, the opinion panel poll is the fifth conducted for researchers at Queen’s as part of a three-year (2021-2023) Economic and Social Research Council-funded research project entitled “Governance for ‘a place between’: the Multilevel Dynamics of Implementing the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland” (@PostBrexitGovNI). This is the only polling in Northern Ireland dedicated to the topic of the Protocol and which has been running at regular intervals since the Protocol entered into force:

The most positive views in Northern Ireland are in relation to the Protocol’s economic consequences. 55% of respondents see the current impact of the Protocol on Northern Ireland’s economy as positive, and 65% think that the Protocol offers unique economic opportunities which could benefit Northern Ireland.

In contrast, the greatest concerns are for its political implications – with 59% seeing the Protocol as having a negative impact on political stability and on British-Irish relations. The proportion thinking that the Protocol has a negative impact on Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom, including the UK internal market, is 46% – less than in previous polls but still significant.

Respondents to the poll were asked six sets of questions on attitudes towards Brexit and the Protocol.

Key findings include:
Just over a third (36%) of respondents have no concerns about the full operational scope and impact of the Protocol.
A majority (55%) do have concerns about the implications if the grace periods were to end and the Protocol were to be fully implemented. Among this 55%:
Customs declarations being required for parcels is the issue of most concern, followed by potential restrictions on plants, seeds and chilled meats being brought into Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
Northern Ireland’s alignment with EU standards on goods is the issue of least concern to these respondents, followed the application of EU rules on state aid.
There are mixed and generally low levels of trust in political actors and institutions when it comes to managing Northern Ireland’s interest with respect to the Protocol
The UK government is by far the most distrusted (84% distrust, 55% strongly so) and least trusted of all actors (trusted just by 5% of respondents)
Voters in Northern Ireland are marginally more inclined to trust (47%) than distrust (43%) the European Commission/EU.
There are clear patterns with respect to the majority view of voters in Northern Ireland when it comes to what should happen next with the Protocol
A majority of respondents (57%) do not think the UK Government is justified in taking unilateral action to suspend elements of the Protocol and 55% think that the EU would be justified in retaliating against such measures.
A clear majority of respondents (74%) would prefer to see the UK and the EU reaching an agreement on the Protocol’s implementation than the UK take unilateral action.
Just over half of respondents (52%) favour MLAs voting for the continued application of the Protocol; 40% want MLAs to vote against. The margin between the two is the largest of the five polls conducted to date.
Respondents remain split on how their MLAs should vote in the 2024 ‘democratic consent’ vote.
Principal Investigator of the project, Professor David Phinnemore from the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics at Queen’s, said: “Many voters in Northern Ireland clearly continue to have genuine concerns about what the full operation of the Protocol would mean. Yet, this latest poll also shows support for the Protocol edging upwards and almost two-thirds of respondents seeing economic opportunities in it. Also it’s clear that voters would much prefer outstanding issues between the UK and the EU to be resolved through agreement and not unilateral action by the UK government.”

Co-investigator, Professor Katy Hayward, a Senior Fellow of the UK in a Changing Europe and from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s, commented: “People in NI have clear views on the Protocol and in some cases those views are strongly divided. But one of the things they agree most on (77%) is that the UK and EU should jointly present factual information on the Protocol. The lack of agreement from the UK and EU as to the actual meaning and problems of the Protocol is clearly exacerbating the divisive effects of the topic on the ground in Northern Ireland.”

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